2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Volume 30, Number 2
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Aboriginal education enhancement agreement for north Island
Chambers of commerce
Health impacts of poverty
Heritage run-of-the-river energy project
British Columbia Women's Institute
Heart health for women
Health care fees for seniors
Hon. M. de Jong
Sale of government land in Surrey and B.C.
Hon. K. Falcon
Government sale of Provincial Capital Commission assets and Vancouver Island properties
Hon. K. Falcon
Budget provisions for children and families
Hon. M. McNeil
Government action on child poverty
Hon. K. Falcon
Orders of the Day
Budget Debate (continued)
Hon. D. McRae
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2012
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
C. James: I have four constituents who are visiting us in the gallery today: Annette Kirk, Carol Christianson, Pauline Burton and Mary Elford. Would the House please make them all very welcome.
Hon. M. Polak: It's always a pleasure for members of this House when we're in these long periods of being away from our families when some of them can come to visit us. Today we are joined in the House by my daughter Miriam Polak whom I am fond of referring to as the best thing that ever happened to me, and her friend Spencer Kennedy. Would the House please make them very welcome.
J. Horgan: Being a capital regional MLA, my family always says: "When are you leaving town?" rather than "When are you coming home?" But I digress.
I want to ask the House to join me in welcoming my friend Patrick Henry, the president of the school teachers association. Patrick has been teaching middle school for 23 years in B.C., most recently in the Sooke school district. He's here today to watch the proceedings and to see if we have learned anything over the past number of years about how to comport ourselves and pass appropriate laws. Would the House please make him very welcome.
P. Pimm: I don't often get the chance to introduce folks from my area, so I'm very proud to introduce two teachers that we have in the audience today. One is from school district 81, and one is from school district 60 in Fort St. John. We've got Rihanna Johnson. She's a science — chemistry — teacher from Fort Nelson Secondary. She grew up appreciating education and learning by example what a good teacher is. Rihanna's hope is that she herself is the same example to the students she works with and, one day, her own children.
Also, Donna Bulmer. Donna is a teacher from Peace River North in Fort St. John, and for the majority of her 25 years in the profession Donna taught students in intermediate grades. For the past few years Donna has been a teacher-librarian at Robert Ogilvie. Donna lives wither her partner, Bill Jenn, who is a very old and dear friend of mine. Would the House please help me welcome them.
N. Macdonald: It's my pleasure to introduce two teacher activists here from Columbia River–Revelstoke: Jennifer Wolney, president of our Revelstoke Teachers Association; and Robyn Oliver, our professional development chair from Rocky Mountain school district, based at David Thompson Secondary School in Invermere. Will the House join me in making them welcome.
M. Dalton: Today in the House we have Susan Croll. She's a dedicated teacher from school district 42, Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows, and is also the vice-president for the Maple Ridge Teachers Association. I've known Susan for a number of years when I was teaching in the school district, and I'm just pleased that we were able to get together and have discussions. So would the House please make her feel welcome.
M. Sather: I want to join my colleague on the other side of the House in welcoming Susan Croll. Susan and I had a great discussion today. She's a support teacher and teacher-librarian, now ably assisting the Maple Ridge Teachers Association. Would the House please join me in welcoming her.
L. Reid: We're joined in the gallery today by Shauna Litke. She's a fourth-year metallurgical engineering student from the University of British Columbia. I have known this young woman since she was born. I could not be more proud of her accomplishments. Please join me in welcoming her.
B. Ralston: My son Daniel Ralston, is visiting in Victoria at the Archives, working on a paper that he's completing for a history course at UBC, so I'd ask you to make him welcome.
Hon. S. Thomson: I'd like to make an introduction. We jumped the gun a little bit yesterday with my colleague from Kelowna–Lake Country in introducing Alice Rees and Susan Bauhart from the Central Okanagan Teachers Association. They are in the gallery today, and I'd like the House to make them welcome. I look forward to meeting with them later this afternoon.
D. Routley: I'd like to have the House help me welcome two teachers, Derek DeGear and Justin Green. They're with the Nanaimo District Teachers Association. Yesterday the member for Nanaimo and I met with them and were both impressed by the fact that everything they brought to us in terms of information, they related back to the children that they teach. It's a very positive experience to hear them relate all of their concerns back to the conditions for those children.
R. Hawes: Today marks the last day here in the Legislature for Chris Tupper, who is a ministerial assistant now working in the Justice Ministry. Chris has served many, many of us here on this side of the House in dif-
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ferent ministries for a number of years. He is extremely capable. He's going to be missed greatly, and we all want to just wish Chris good luck in his new venture in private enterprise.
J. Rustad: On behalf of my colleagues from my neighbouring ridings and myself, the member for Prince George–Mackenzie and the member for Prince George–Valemount, I'd like to introduce to the House Marleen Morris and Greg Halseth. Marleen is the associate director and Greg is the director of the community development institute. The CDI has over eight years of experience working with northern communities to help them through the process of community and economic transformation and revitalization. Through that period of time they've gained a lot of respect and trust as advisers, and I'd like the House to please make them welcome.
J. Thornthwaite: I've just got late word that I've got a couple of my constituents also in the House — Allison Andersen and her daughter Nicole. Maybe we could give them a nice, warm welcome.
Mr. Speaker: For those of you who want to keep statistics, yesterday we had 27 introductions involving 94 guests. I think that it must be a record.
(Standing Order 25B)
ABORIGINAL EDUCATION ENHANCEMENT
AGREEMENT FOR NORTH ISLAND
C. Trevena: There's going to be a big celebration in Fort Rupert tomorrow. Young people from all the First Nations schools will be there, along with youth from Port Hardy Secondary School and North Island Secondary School. There's going to be a canoe welcome, dancing and feasting. The big house will be given over to teachers, students, administrators and the community.
The reason? The signing of the second aboriginal education enhancement agreement between First Nations in the north Island, school district 85 and the Minister of Education. The first agreement, based on trust and collaboration, was signed in 2005 and has been intended to improve the education system for everyone. It was founded on three goals.
Firstly, a sense of belonging and of respect. This was rooted in traditions and values of the First Nations communities and the students. Secondly, academic achievement and individual success. This meant every student is able to work on his or her own goals. Thirdly, there is aboriginal content at all grade levels and in all subjects. That is essential in making education relevant for the students. It makes the whole plan work because it links back to the traditions and the values and helps the academic achievement and the individual success.
The first agreement was seen truly as an achievement where students' strengths were developed and their skills honed. Now it's time to grow. The new agreement has a fourth goal, one that may be harder to measure but will strengthen the foundation and the way it works.
That goal is, in consultation with the school system, that all participants will work more closely with communities and with families. Aboriginal First Nations and Métis students make up almost 40 percent of the school population in the north Island. Education is the great equalizer. A strong public system which recognizes and respects everyone is fundamental. It will help these children and young people as they grow. It will help their communities, and it will help the whole of our society.
CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE
D. Hayer: This week British Columbians are taking part in numerous events to celebrate Chamber of Commerce Week across the province. Chamber of Commerce Week 2012 kicked off on Monday here in Victoria with a proclamation that asserts the province's recognition of the important role that chambers of commerce and boards of trade play in building a competitive and sustainable economy that ensures opportunity for all.
The network of chambers of commerce across B.C. plays an important role in promoting trade and commerce and improving the economic and social welfare of the province. This week celebrates and promotes these important institutions. Chambers represent more than 30,000 businesses across B.C., all shapes and sizes, and provide an entire spectrum of opinions to the B.C. business community as well as to our government.
The chambers' success in stimulating local economies, promoting local business and engaging in important advocacy is all thanks to creative and extremely dedicated representatives who go the extra mile. They listen to their business communities' needs, and they relay those concerns and ideas to our government. Through benefit programs, services and education, chambers of commerce are there to support B.C. businesses so they can reach their full potential.
As a former president of the Surrey Board of Trade, I know firsthand the important work that chambers do for their communities. I encourage all members in the House to contact their local chamber to thank them for helping to build strong communities around the province.
In closing, I would like to thank all the staff, volunteers, board members and executives of the Surrey Board of Trade, the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce, the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce, the Vancouver Board of Trade, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and all other chambers across
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B.C. for their tremendous promotion of trade and commerce.
HEALTH IMPACTS OF POVERTY
J. Brar: Poverty is costing our health care. Imagine for a moment that you are sick and unable to afford life-saving prescriptions, a healthy diet and housing that meets your basic needs. What would happen to you and your family? People that are sick and living in poverty face these unimaginable struggles every day.
During the welfare challenge I went to Surrey Memorial Hospital to meet with some health care workers. They shared stories about the struggle of the poor who visit the hospital. One of the stories they shared with me is a married man in his 30s with young children. He came to the hospital because he had difficulty breathing and was diagnosed with a severe case of pneumonia.
After the initial treatment he was given a prescription to be filled when he left the hospital. The medication was extremely costly, and the young man was unable to afford it. After a couple of days he returned to the hospital with much more serious health conditions. He was put on life support, and sadly, he passed away after a few days.
Another worker told me how it is almost impossible to find wheelchair- or mobility-friendly housing in Surrey for patients on low incomes. Patients with these needs end up staying in hospital for longer periods of time due to lack of housing available that would support their mobility issues.
Each of these stories has a message for all of us. We cannot afford not to take actions to address the growing gap between the rich and the poor. We must start addressing inequality with a pragmatic approach, with clear targets and timelines. That is the path the people of B.C. would want us to pursue.
B. Bennett: This week is Heritage Week, and the theme this year is "Energy in B.C." Today I'm going to tell a true story of one of B.C.'s pioneer families and one of the province's first independent power projects. McDonald Ranch and Lumber is a four-generation family business located in Grasmere just above the Montana border. John A. McDonald of Nova Scotia, a carpenter, moved up to Fernie from Nanaimo to help build Fernie after the terrible fire of 1906.
In 1923 John bought a farm at Grasmere, which he and his family worked to supply the region with apples, potatoes, beef, Christmas trees, lumber and railroad ties. In 1928, with the Grasmere Valley lit only by kerosene lanterns, Jack McDonald fed the water from Rainbow Creek through a small pelton wheel to power his small sawmill and grain grinder. This IPP powered the ranch, the sawmill and the McDonald homes for 30 years from 1928 until 1958.
Following in his father's footsteps, Jack's son Doug, who I know and who's now 91, and his brother Andy constructed a concrete weir on Phillips Creek in the early 1980s. They installed a 600-kilowatt generator and 2,000 feet of used 16-inch steel gas pipe. They built 10,000 feet of wood-pole distribution lines and installed the necessary substations.
The government of the day warned Doug that the project would cost millions to construct and design, but with innovation and pioneer spirit, Doug McDonald built his Phillips Creek IPP for $90,000 and completed the circle of family history.
McHydro, as the family calls it, was one of B.C.'s first small private hydroelectric projects to tie into the B.C. Hydro grid. Now, today, Doug's and Andy's sons and their own children light their houses, run the ranch and the sawmill, and sell into the grid, all using the hydro power from Phillips Creek.
On behalf of all of us here in this assembly, help me to celebrate the entrepreneurial pioneer McDonald family of Grasmere, British Columbia, and this great story of heritage energy in B.C.
BRITISH COLUMBIA WOMEN'S INSTITUTE
K. Conroy: This week is also Women's Institute Week and will be celebrated across Canada. The organization is summed up in the words "Women interested, informed and involved in building a better tomorrow." Here in B.C. the Women's Institute started over a hundred years ago in 1909 as a means to provide support to rural women who were new not only to Canada and B.C. but to rural life as well.
Most women were isolated, and the monthly meetings provided a social outlet, access to home and farm skills plus a means to discuss how their communities could be improved. The women worked to get services such as schools, halls, local libraries, travelling health nurses and dentists. They were instrumental in the establishment of public health units provincewide.
They started the first buy-B.C. campaign in the 1930s; successfully lobbied for changes to the Dower Act, rewritten in 1947 so a husband needed his wife's consent to sell the family home; and were instrumental in naming the Pacific dogwood as a provincial flower.
Although society today reaps the benefits of the hard work of the early pioneers, the Women's Institute does not rest on its laurels. Communities throughout B.C. benefit from the ongoing work of the members, and they continue to support B.C. Children's Hospital and the Queen Alexandra Centre here in Victoria.
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Throughout their history members have lobbied politicians of all levels regarding issues of concern. Resolutions from the Women's Institute have included returning the 1 percent property transfer tax to communities to help construct low-income housing and to reassess the needs of those who live on disability pensions or social assistance.
Today the resolutions include: no Site C dam on the Peace, the risk to B.C. of offshore oil and gas drilling, and protecting our B.C. water supply for our children and grandchildren.
The Edgewood branch in my constituency has been operating since 1926. Some of their members contacted me with their recent concerns, and I wanted to share with the House their years of service. Rachel Eckert has been a member for over 40 years; Penelope Penner, 44 years; and Rosalee Nesbitt has been a member of the Women's Institute for 63 years.
I ask the House to join me in thanking these women and all the women of the Women's Institute for their years of commitment to our communities and the province.
HEART HEALTH FOR WOMEN
M. Stilwell: There's a certain TV commercial making the rounds right now. You may have seen it. It features a deep male voice professing his love for women, all women. It's the voice of Death, and he's stalking indiscriminately. It's an unsettling image made more so by the statistic it describes. Heart disease is the number one killer of women.
The ad is part of the Make Death Wait campaign by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. It's design is simple: to promote heart health and preventive measures.
In 2008, 30 percent of all female deaths in Canada were caused by heart disease. Each year more women die from heart disease and stroke than from all forms of cancer combined. These are statistics we can change.
February is Heart Month, a national campaign to rally Canadians to combat heart disease. All month volunteers from the Heart and Stroke Foundation have been canvassing door to door across the nation, promoting awareness and raising funds for critical life-saving research and educational programs.
It's through education and changing habits that we will begin to address these startling statistics. Research policy that makes sure women are included in heart studies will also help. Over the last 40 years heart disease rates have steadily declined, but there is still so much more to do. Heart disease takes a Canadian life every seven seconds.
I encourage all members to educate themselves and speak to their loved ones. Knowledge is part of the cure, and it can help us make death wait.
HEALTH CARE FEES FOR SENIORS
K. Conroy: Mr. Hubbard is an 88-year-old veteran from Penticton who had colon cancer. After surgery he required a colostomy bag. He is legally blind and lives independently, but he couldn't change the bag by himself, so he was placed in residential care for three months.
Upon discharge he was handed a bill for $2,200. This was the first time he'd been told he would be charged, and if he didn't pay up, well, a collection agency would be after him.
He was living on a fixed income and had no ability to pay this bill, but he was never offered any help. He had to take out a loan to pay for health care, a loan he is still paying off today. Is this part of the minister's plan for seniors: pay up, or the collection agency will be after you?
Hon. M. de Jong: I am peripherally aware of this specific case. I'll be cautious, though, about discussing the details of the specific case, though I'm happy to discuss it with the member following question period today.
What I can tell the member is this. My understanding is that these events took place prior to 2010, when policies around convalescence care and contributions to convalescence care were formalized, and that generally speaking, what would happen is this.
When a patient is discharged from an acute care facility, generally speaking, we hope they go home. In some cases that's not possible, and that sounds like it was the case in the instance the member has related to the House today.
In those circumstances where a patient requires additional personal care — bathing, eating — they are today — and were in a different way, I believe, in 2009 — asked to contribute to that care. Today the rate is $29, but it is subject to the patient being able to pay. There is a financial test.
The health authority hasn't received any information, I'm told, from the patient involved. I am happy to receive it from the member and to investigate further.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
K. Conroy: Mr. Hubbard also just contacted me because he is really concerned with what's happening with seniors in this province. He said he never wanted to see another senior have to take out a loan to pay for health care. He also feels, as I do, that it's really time for this government to look at what's happening to seniors and look at their priorities.
Now the Ombudsperson in her report has highlighted the abysmal state of seniors care in this province. In her report the Ombudsman says that in the last three years situations like this, where seniors were forced to pay fees on top of their usual living costs, can quickly cause ser-
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ious hardship. This is what happened to Mr. Hubbard.
Will the minister stand up today for seniors and ensure that another senior never has to take out a loan to pay for health care?
Hon. M. de Jong: I want to disabuse members of the House of any confusion. Any individual receiving health care services in British Columbia receives them pursuant to our publicly funded health care system and is not asked to contribute to the cost of that care.
Now, with respect to some of the personal care needs, I should remind the member that contributions to the cost of respite care, palliative care and in-hospital care not relating to health care date back to 1999. Before the member stands and castigates with what I would suggest are close to false pretences, I would suggest that she familiarize herself with both the policies and the origins of those policies.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
M. Farnworth: Mr. Hubbard's case shows the state of seniors care in the province of British Columbia. Those are issues, and I'm sorry the member for Langley doesn't like it, but that's a fact. The Ombudsperson tabled a report two weeks ago dealing with the state of seniors care in British Columbia after 11 years of this government being in power.
In that report were 176 recommendations. One of those recommendations that the Ombudsperson raised was around the issue of fees and the fact that seniors are still being charged fees, and they're not being made aware of remedies to that — that seniors who are experiencing financial hardship can find out if they can apply for a fee reduction. That did not happen in this case, and it's happening in too many other cases. It's an issue that the Ombudsperson said could be corrected.
My question to the minister is this. He can stand in this House today and make a commitment to implement the recommendations of that report and, specifically, the recommendation dealing with the notification of seniors that they may be eligible to have fees waived. Will he stand in this House and do that today?
Hon. M. de Jong: Well, to the member who usually — I will be somewhat complimentary — is at least apprised of the news as it occurs…. If he reads the seniors action plan, he will know that the government has done precisely that in terms of committing to move forward and implementing the broad range of recommendations that relate to communicating, ensuring people understand what the regulations are, in some cases bridging the gaps that exist between regulations — as there inevitably will be — where someone falls through the cracks and is unfairly left behind.
Creating a seniors advocate so that there is someone in place to assist those seniors, not just with respect to their relationship with the state but in circumstances where seniors find themselves in difficulty in a private contractual relationship is, I think, the appropriate thing to do. That is what we have committed to do, and we're getting on with the work.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: The only thing the government is committed to do….
Mr. Speaker: Member.
M. Farnworth: The member from Kamloops I think demonstrates why an election can't come soon enough in this province.
The Minister of Health says that they're moving forward on a seniors advocate, for example. The only thing they've announced is a delay — six months to review things. That's not taking action today.
But who has taken action? The Minister of Finance was quite happy to take action yesterday at a board of trade meeting where he stood up and asked for applause because he said that the Ministry of Health budget was going to be underspent this coming year.
I think the Minister of Finance just showed where his priorities are.
M. Farnworth: The question is really quite simple. When the Minister of Finance is bragging about how he's going to underspend the health care budget at the same time as seniors like Mr. Hubbard are demanding and needing improvements in seniors care in this province, why is it that the Finance Minister's need for applause takes precedence over the health care needs of seniors in the province of British Columbia?
Hon. M. de Jong: I know that the hon. member is a former Minister of Health and is unfamiliar with the notion of bringing something in on budget. That is clearly a novel concept, not just for the hon. member but for all of his colleagues.
But our responsibility as ministers, as members of this House, extends beyond, in my view, the single department that we may have responsibility for. If we are going to protect the public services that British Columbians expect in this province today and in the future, we are
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going to need to bring some fiscal discipline to all areas of government, including health care.
I'm sorry if it offends the member and his colleagues that we are spending an additional $1.55 billion in health care over the next three years. They undoubtedly have a figure that they believe is most appropriate. What I can't figure out is why they are so afraid to share that figure with British Columbians.
SALE OF GOVERNMENT LAND IN
SURREY AND B.C.
S. Hammell: The 15-acre property at 152nd and Highway 10 identified by the Minister of Finance in his fire sale of public assets is in the centre of Surrey. It was originally purchased in 1999 for $5.8 million by the provincial government and the greater Vancouver regional health district. It is strategically located between four of the five town centres and is in an area of dramatic growth.
Will the Minister of Finance admit that selling this land as part of a public assets fire sale is designed to save the Liberals' political hide and amounts to nothing more than selling the house to pay for some bills?
Hon. K. Falcon: I want to thank the House Leader for setting up that wonderful question.
The member well knows that when that property was acquired, the idea was that it would be, hopefully, made available for future expansion of Surrey Memorial Hospital which, unfortunately, the NDP never undertook in the ten years that they had the opportunity.
As the health authority, working with the government, was looking for where to make that potential hospital expansion, they landed, I believe correctly, on expanding it at the current site. So today you can go and visit. I encourage the member to do so and to witness the $600 million new tower rising out of the ground.
In fact, what was interesting is that as we were making that great announcement with the Minister of Health, I could only note that the member was there jostling around trying to get into the photo, though they opposed every step of the way the direction we were moving in.
But that land is now being surplused because it's not being used. It's a five-minute drive from the hospital, and it's surplus land. What is more important is not only can we generate some important revenues, meaning that we don't have to go to taxpayers to borrow more money, but it will also generate economic development and create hundreds of new jobs on that property.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Hammell: We can talk about how long it took, how many times the shovels were promised to be put in the ground, but in the end they were put in the ground on public land that was surplus, that had been bought before.
Instead of trimming the budget in the Premier's office, instead of trimming the budget of the government's $26 million political spin department, instead of trimming down the $15 million upcoming propaganda campaign…. In the long term the public benefit of holding land like this is obvious. The cost of land, as we well know, will go nothing but up and will be astronomical in the future.
Will the minister release to the public the list of all the properties proposed for this public asset fire sale?
Hon. K. Falcon: We witness here the NDP apparently horrified at the very prospect of government selling surplus, non-strategic real estate. But then I had a thought. I recalled that the member opposite…
Hon. K. Falcon: Oh, you'll like this part.
…served in the cabinet of a government that sold the Oakalla lands in 1997.
Hon. K. Falcon: No, it gets worse.
They sold the Oakalla lands for about $45 million to private developers, and that horrifying sellout to developers resulted in $120 million of development on those very lands.
That was probably the right decision in the '90s, even though, amazingly, they made it. We're making similar decisions right now.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
H. Bains: The minister talked about excess land. It's located in a city, Surrey, which is one of the fastest-growing cities in Canada. This land is a part of an important future of that city. Actually, it is in their official community plan. So selling this land is a short-sighted sell-off to meet the political objectives of this Liberal government and no more. It is like selling your mother's jewelry to buy groceries today.
My question is to the minister again. He refused to give that list. How many other properties in Surrey and elsewhere in B.C. are on the chopping block as a public fire sale so that they can pay for their failed economic policies?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, this is a very good example where the NDP have already set up their rota of questions, and now they're stuck in this rut, having to ask
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questions knowing that the answers are not going to be very favourable.
But let me humour the member opposite. Apparently, a 15-acre piece of raw land is a Crown jewel now. It is apparently of such incredible strategic value that our selling it is incredibly different from the selling of the Oakalla lands that took place under the NDP government.
I'm having difficulty understanding the difference, except the Oakalla lands were probably ten times larger. That certainly comes to mind.
But look, the fact of the matter is…. I know that the members opposite can become very attached to things without remembering what they actually did while they were in government, but I would remind the member opposite that in the normal course of events government is selling assets every year. It happened under their government; it happens under our government.
What we are doing in fact, strategically, is making sure that we coordinate that across government and make sure we maximize value for the taxpayer on surplus non-strategic assets, so that we don't have to go to taxpayers for more money or borrow more money.
GOVERNMENT SALE OF PROVINCIAL
CAPITAL COMMISSION ASSETS AND
VANCOUVER ISLAND PROPERTIES
R. Fleming: What's different…
Mr. Speaker: Members, Members.
Just take your seat for a second, Member.
R. Fleming: …about land sale disposals today is that two days ago the B.C. Liberals tabled a budget with key assumptions that were built upon aggressive disposal of land to give the illusion of black ink in the budget when there is only red.
In the last 24 hours three board members of the Provincial Capital Commission quit, including the chair of the capital regional district, because of political interference to dump public assets by this government. These three commissioners have left the Provincial Capital Commission because they have seen the for-sale list in closed meetings, closed session meetings, and they found it to be reckless and irresponsible.
So will the Minister of Finance here this afternoon release the list of properties in the provincial capital area, and will he confirm if they include property in the Inner Harbour, including the Belleville international ferry terminal?
Hon. K. Falcon: I was advised that Councillor Young, who serves on the PCC, did resign. Now, the member left out a little bit, of course. He said he agrees with the idea of selling properties in the Inner Harbour that could create economic development activity. But he — I think appropriately — decided out of an abundance of caution that as a councillor who may make future zoning decisions, it was appropriate that he not put himself into what could be seen as a potential conflict — unlikely, but very honourable indeed.
But I'm not aware of the other two members that the member opposite refers to. The media advised that there were a couple of others. I wasn't aware of that. But I'm not entirely sure why they have such a strong attachment to the parking lot, for example, across the street. I can tell you that even when we sell it, part of the requirement will include an underground parkade. So the member opposite does not have to worry. He still will be able to park. The difference is there will be a significant commercial development that will create hundreds of new jobs and generate revenues that are important for the province of British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Fleming: What is different here today, and so desperate about the budget that was tabled two days ago, is that the province is abandoning what the Provincial Capital Commission used to do, which is that they managed land of strategic interest to maximize public value.
In the past when there were surplus properties, like parking lots, to be disposed of, the province rezoned it, they enhanced its value for taxpayers, they partnered with private developers, and they used the proceeds to leverage things — like the revitalization of the St. Ann's Academy or to acquire the rapid transit corridor down Highway 1. That's what they did with it. They didn't do it to pad their budget to give the illusion of a false surplus where there isn't one in an election year.
Property decisions in B.C. used to be made with a 30- or 50-year time horizon, not a one-year time horizon through to a desperate election year in 2013.
Having propped up their budget on the sale of land across British Columbia and here in the capital region, I want to ask the minister this so that we can understand what is being abandoned. Will the Minister of Finance…? Let's see his plan. Will he release the list of properties on Vancouver Island so the public can view them to see what the government's real fire sale agenda here is on Vancouver Island?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, the member knows not what he speaks, because actually, if he looked at the budget, he would understand that, in fact, this so-called fire sale…. Apparently, it's a very slow burn fire sale, because we're taking the next 12 months to make sure that as we do this, we do maximize value.
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We're taking the time to make sure we do exactly what the member talks about, and maximize its value.
Now, I know that the member opposite may be a little bit light on private sector experience prior to coming to this House, but I can tell him, as someone that has been in the investment….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. K. Falcon: I appear to have touched a nerve on many of the members opposite. I appear to have touched a nerve on so many of them — very many of them.
I'll just let the member know that actually when you're trying to maximize value, the one thing you don't do is you don't lay out your entire portfolio and say, "Here it all is, folks; have a look at it," and start doing your bidding against each other and cooperating with each other to drive down value.
We're maximizing value on this side of the House. We're taking the time to do it right.
BUDGET PROVISIONS FOR
CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
C. Trevena: B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth had some very choice words about the Liberal budget: "grim," "callous," "a deliberate choice to leave families behind."
I'd like to ask the Minister of Children and Families about her choices. How can she explain a rise in her minister's office budget of 11 percent while every other line item is frozen or cut?
Hon. M. McNeil: I had the experience of having dinner with the Representative for Children and Youth on Tuesday night after the budget. We had a long discussion, which we often do about different issues. We actually have the same goal, and that is to ensure that children and youth in this province are supported the best they can.
What the representative did share with me is that she has seen our draft strategic and operational plan, a three-year plan. She's delighted with where we're heading. She thinks it's one of the best plans she has seen. Her concern was that we would actually be able to fund some of the initiatives that we're doing.
What I did assure her very clearly was that the deputy minister and I are both very confident, with the budget that we have, that we'll be able to deliver the services to children and youth in this province within the budget we have.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
C. Trevena: If this minister shares the goals of the Children and Youth Representative, how can she support this budget? It's a question of priorities, and children are clearly not one of them.
We have the Premier saying she's all about families first, but the children's representative has called this budget — no matter how many dinners she has with the minister — "a U-turn from the families-first agenda." The Premier's real priorities: $15 million for political advertising, boosterism and political advisers.
To the minister, how can she stand by quietly as this Premier shows her true priorities and turns her back on vulnerable children in B.C.?
Hon. M. McNeil: It's interesting. When you have a chance to chat with the Representative for Children and Youth about her concerns, we realized that the two of us have very much in common. We do care about the children and youth. We do….
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. M. McNeil: In fact, that's actually not what was said. Yesterday morning when she spoke with the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth, she was actually very, very complimentary. She was very complimentary of the Ministry of Children and Families. The strategic and operational plan that we have for the next three years — she says it's the best plan she has seen. I take that very….
Hon. M. McNeil: What I did assure her on Tuesday night, when we had our discussion, was that my deputy minister and I are very confident that we can, within the budget that we have in front, continue to do the great work that we do for children and youth in this province and that she will continue to have a role in helping guide us.
GOVERNMENT ACTION ON CHILD POVERTY
C. James: I heard the minister say "the great work" that this government does. Well, let's take a look at the facts. It is truly shameful that B.C. has had the highest rate of child poverty, the worst rate of child poverty in Canada for eight years straight. How is that doing a good job for children? And now the B.C. Liberal budget ensures that we will stay there.
Adrienne Montani from First Call said: "It's a false economy to ignore the costs of undermining children's healthy development through maintaining a high poverty rate and withholding needed support."
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The Liberals have their priorities wrong. This should not be a political issue. Liberals in Ontario, Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Democrats in Manitoba have all moved on a child poverty plan, but British Columbia is one of two provinces without any plan to deal with poverty.
To the Minister of Children and Families, why didn't she do something to protect vulnerable children and families in this province?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, on this side of the House we believe the best anti-poverty program is a job. It may be why, today — when there's so much global uncertainty, when you have high record rates of unemployment around the world — in British Columbia, we have the highest level of employment we've ever had.
Put aside for a moment the extra $444 million we're adding to the Social Development Ministry. But let's also recognize the $365 million investment in all-day kindergarten, one of the things that every expert says is the best thing we could do. We will continue to invest in children and services right across the province of British Columbia.
[End of question period.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: I call continued debate on the budget.
Hon. D. McRae: I am pleased to stand and finish up my speech in response to the budget. I was having so much enjoyment speaking before. I have some bad news for the members opposite. I thoroughly enjoyed my first section entitled — working title by the way, for all — "Does the opposition know what it's like to live outside of British Columbia?" That was well received by the members opposite, I was glad to say.
I'm afraid the bad news is I'm going to have to skip part of my speech entitled "How the opposition insists on crushing consumer confidence in British Columbia," and I will move right on to "Giving families a break."
[L. Reid in the chair.]
You know, it's important to know that people run for political office for many reasons. One of the reasons that I chose to stand for provincial political office in 2009 was watching how the B.C. Liberal government had an ability to actually grow the economy and at the same time lower taxes and invest in vital services across the province.
As a high school teacher, I was really pleased to make note of…. In 2001, I was paying X amount of taxes. In 2009, when I left, I was actually paying $3,000 a year less in taxes because of the B.C. Liberal government and the tax cuts they provided not just to teachers but to all residents of British Columbia.
No matter what the opposition wishes to portray in the media or on this House floor, the reality is that British Columbians are the second-lowest-taxed population in all of Canada. I'm just going to use some examples. I'm not much of an accountant, but I went on line and used a little bit of a budget tax calculator the other day. Let's assume I was still teaching today. If I was teaching in the Comox Valley, I'd be making approximately $83,000 a year. Now, after-tax dollars in British Columbia? That means I'd take home about $63,444, which is pretty substantial, living in a small town. Always like to make more, but it's pretty good.
Now, if I was making that same wage in the province of Ontario, I don't make $63,000 take-home. I'd be making about $62,000 take-home, about $1,300 a year less. But you know, there are worse places to live when it comes to taxation.
It is a little bit better in Ontario than it is in Saskatchewan. A Saskatchewan resident making $83,000 a year will take home about $60,200 — not so good on the math, but about $3,200 less. Not that I want to blame Saskatchewan for having high taxation. If they feel bad in Saskatchewan, they can look farther east and look at, say, the province of Quebec, where if you were making $83,000 a year, you would take home in the end about $57,000 or year, or $6,000 less take-home pay by living in one province to another. So there is some real advantage.
Furthermore, I wanted to compliment the Finance Minister. I'm one of the handful of MLAs, I think, in the House who has very young children and one of the very few of the handful of MLAs who actually still buys diapers on a regular basis for their children. But there are elements in this budget which are important for families, and they're important for communities like the Comox Valley, and I can't compliment the Finance Minister more for stepping up and making things good for families in British Columbia.
One of the first issues I wanted to talk about was the B.C. first-time-homeowners grant. It's in existence till March 31, 2013. If you're going to buy a brand-new home in British Columbia over $200,000, you are eligible for a $10,000 rebate. Now, if you're not sure what the word "rebate" means, that's a cheque in the mail. That is dollars coming right to your pocket, and these are homes that are new.
That means they need a new drywaller, a new plumber, a roofer and all the building materials to make sure that they can actually be constructed. So this is not only good for families to move into a new home; it's also good for the homebuilders across this province and especially in
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the Comox Valley.
Now, as well, there is the B.C. seniors home-renovation tax credit. It was treated, I would think, with disdain by the members opposite, but the reality is that this is really, really positive. It is worth up to $1,000 a year and allows for, basically, reducing some structural challenges in a home of a senior. They can do things that will allow them to stay in their home longer and have a better quality of life. We all know that moving at any stage of your life, whether you're 22 or 62 or 92, is not an easy time. So if we can allow individuals, especially in the senior stage of their life, to stay in their home a little longer and not bear some extra costs, this is, I think, a really positive step.
With the B.C. seniors home-renovation tax credit, it allows individuals to make investments in things like handrails, ramps to get into your house if you have some stairs or something as important as a walk-in bathtub. This is something that I think will allow seniors to have a better quality of life. Seniors in the Comox Valley benefit and across British Columbia.
The other one which I thought was actually very, very appropriate for the Comox Valley…. I think a lot of people will not understand this — maybe the member from Esquimalt will — the expansion of the homeowner grant to low-income veterans under 65. Now, this is really important. In the Comox Valley, like I said earlier in my speech, we're blessed. We have the CFB Comox. We have a large retirement community for forces members who come, whether they were in the air force in the Comox Valley or they served in the army or the navy, and they often come to the Comox Valley and retire.
Now if you're under the age of 65 and qualify for the low-income veterans homeowner grant, you have the opportunity to save some extra dollars. It's our way as a province to say thank you to the veterans for stepping up and assisting the residents not just of British Columbia or Canada but the world for serving your nation and serving the world to make it a better place. So I'd like to say a special thank-you to the Minister of Finance for that.
Lastly, the children's fitness and arts credit. You can claim up to $500 in eligible expenses. Just in my world alone — and I do say I have two children; I introduced them earlier — there are elements here that we participate in. For example, my daughter has played soccer in the past. This is important. That could be anywhere from $40 to $80. Not a huge amount, but you know what? Every little bit counts. She's a big fan of musical theatre. She's in musical theatre right now. I think she's an unbelievable actress, but I blame her mother for that.
My youngest daughter, Chloe, is involved in diaper gym. Again, not a huge expense. It's a $40 or $50 class, but every little bit helps. One thing I'm really proud of: my daughter Gracie is in ballet and has been in ballet since she was, I think, four years old. It's a class that she goes to every week.
Again, these are things that can be actually claimed against for parents as they put their children in these extracurricular activities. When you're a family, every little bit helps. So I'd like to say thank you, again, to the Finance Minister for making sure that families both in the Comox Valley and across British Columbia are well looked after.
One of the things I was also talking about is that our Premier is showing great leadership. I mentioned this just as we were tidying up at the lunch hour break. Instead of closing borders like we have seen in traditional history in British Columbia or Canada or the world — closing our borders and becoming protectionist — we're going on the offensive. That's why I want to take a few minutes talking about the B.C. job plan.
Now, there are eight key sectors. I want to make sure that the members opposite remember them because they are really important to British Columbia.
Forestry. Forestry is so important for British Columbia. You go out into the rotunda, you look up under the ceiling, and you see four primary sector industries that are in there, and what's one of them that is so well represented? Forestry.
Traditionally we have looked to the States to sell our market. Now, that's been a great market for us in the past — 300 million people, one of the wealthiest middle classes or total numbers and size in the world. We've done very well by the U.S. We will continue to want to sell to the Americans.
I'd like to thank and also congratulate both the past Minister of Forests but also the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. There are opportunities in the world that I think people are envious that we have. For example, in 2007 we sold about $100 million worth of lumber to China. Well, in 2011 we increased it by a little bit. We got it up to — what was it? Oh, $1.1 billion of investment.
If you are a logger in Gold River or a logging truck driver in the Peace River, these are opportunities that allow you to stay in your communities in rural British Columbia. They allow you to make investments, buy groceries, buy an ATV, perhaps, have a quality of life and reinvest those dollars in our rural communities, which are so important. They are bringing new dollars into this province every single day.
There are other opportunities, like mining, liquid natural gas, technology, clean tech, green economy. One that I think the Comox Valley always liked talking about is tourism. I always talk about tourism, because when you think about agritourism in the Comox Valley, we have some great opportunities, whether it is out there visiting something like Coastal Black Estate Winery or Shelter Point whiskey distillery.
I actually was down at a place the other day in Qualicum, in my colleague from Parksville-Qualicum's area, at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. Not only do they make an amazing quality cheese, they also have a pet-
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ting zoo. They also make wine, blueberry wines. In the summertime they have 500 individuals a day stopping by there.
I'd like to say thank you to the Finance Minister for coming through with this budget. I look forward to growth in British Columbia. Families will thrive because of this budget.
L. Krog: I never rise in this chamber that I'm not conscious of the honour and privilege that's conferred on each and every one of us by the voters of our respective constituencies that give us this opportunity to speak in this House.
Indeed, hon. Speaker, I have to note that I haven't been here steadily, but it was 20 years ago that both you and I would have stood and addressed the first throne speech and, subsequently, the first budget speech. Time has passed, but the rhetoric certainly has not changed, from what I can see, having listened to the Minister of Agriculture, the member from Comox, and the usual praising of the government's budget, all the good things that are in it and how wonderful it all is.
But before I lapse into anything that might be counted as sarcasm in this chamber — because it's not my style to be that way, of course — I do want to acknowledge the member for Kootenay East, who acknowledged that we are in Heritage Week. Last night I had the privilege to attend the Nanaimo Heritage Summit. That is an annual gathering of many of the organizations and groups in our community that work hard to preserve the heritage of the great city of Nanaimo and its environs.
As I have often reminded the members in this House, Nanaimo is third-oldest city in the province of British Columbia, with a wonderful heritage and a fascinating history. And as I am always wont to do in this chamber, I like to ask for things when I know the cabinet and government are listening carefully to every word I say.
One of the groups that spoke last night and brought us up to date on their many activities was the Friends of the Morden Mine society. They are working vigorously to preserve the Morden mine tipple, which is actually in the constituency of my good friend and colleague the member for Nanaimo–North Cowichan.
The Morden mine tipple is one of two left in North America — two, hon. Speaker. It is in a state of incredible disrepair. It is a unique aspect of British Columbia's history. What the Morden mine society is attempting to do is to secure the support of government to take the necessary steps to preserve it and to enhance what is already a provincial park — a provincial park donated by the very successful son of a miner in that community some years ago. That led to the creation of the park.
I know that the Minister of Environment is listening carefully, and I know that several other ministers are listening carefully. This would be a great opportunity for this government to demonstrate some real concern and to celebrate Heritage Week in the way it should be celebrated, by recognizing this unique aspect of our history.
Quite literally, based on engineers and experts' reports, in a few years the Morden mine site and the tipple which is so important for it…. This tipple will be gone. It will collapse. It is facing the wear and tear of time. And it would make a great memorial to the miners and workers of this province who literally built my community, who were responsible for the generation of great wealth. It was coal shipped from Nanaimo that powered much of the British Empire and much of that which constituted our great friends to the south in America, in California.
Hon. Speaker, that is my plea as I begin my response to the throne speech today to this government. If you want to make a priority in terms of preserving British Columbia's heritage, you have a unique opportunity. There are many things that could be done, and I could speak about many other aspects, but it is because of the pressing nature of the timing of this request that I raise this today. In a few years at that site the tipple will collapse, and it will be gone forever. British Columbia will have lost an opportunity to preserve a piece of heritage that is just as worthy, in my submission, as any other aspect of this province's history.
Having said that, with respect to the budget, in the words of the song of youth: "Is that all there is, my friend?" What it says to me is that this is a government that has, quite clearly, fulfilled its mandate as best it could, and it's time to go. We are way past the best-before date of the Liberal government in British Columbia.
We have seen, instead of a government that was even prepared to present a throne speech in this chamber, the conventional way of exciting British Columbians, hopefully, about limning something progressive and something worthwhile…. Instead we got a bit of a radio announcement, the favourite safe haven of the Premier, followed up by a budget speech. And what has the budget got to say, hon. Speaker? At a time when we recognize growing inequality in our society, when all the statistics are there for everyone to see, did we see some supports for those who are truly poor and vulnerable amongst us? No, we didn't.
Now, I'm past the child-rearing stage. My wife and I are at the stage that many of the members of this chamber are at. It's about grandparenting now. I'm sure my daughter and son-in-law will be somewhat excited by the prospect of a $25 benefit, for a $500 arts and sports tuition bonus for them, if they can afford to spend that amount of money. But let's be realistic.
I use this as a prime example. If we are in such difficult circumstances — and if one listened to the Minister of Finance, you'd think we were only a couple days away from being Italy or Greece, one of the P.I.G.S. as they're referred to — I have to ask this question from a common-
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sense perspective: what is it going to cost to implement this program, this tiny example of a government attempting to buy votes? What's it going to cost in terms of the necessary paperwork and the application and the proof and the supervision and the rejection of the application and the appeal of the application and all of the things that go with this kind of focused benefit to people?
Moreover, more importantly, $500 to many — indeed, statistically, perhaps, even the majority — of the families in my community…. That $500 expenditure on what they'd love to spend on their children is simply not there. If, like my daughter and son-in-law, you have three children, the prospect of spending $1,500 annually? Not likely to happen. Not likely to happen.
So in this budget, I suggest with great respect, instead of attempting to buy votes with this program — and this is simply one example — it may have been better to focus on assisting those quite directly who really need the money, not those who feel comfortable enough or indeed are comfortable enough to pay out $500 for those kinds of things.
It's not that I'm against sport or anything of that nature, but if we are in this difficult fiscal circumstance, if things are so bad, there are many British Columbians who could have used that money. It could have been better spent. What it says is that this government's priorities are about winning an election instead of doing what's right by the people of British Columbia.
The housing bonus. Now, I understand how important that is. Indeed, my community is suffering greatly right now because of the lack of construction. Nanaimo is a community that has traditionally survived well since the demise of the coal and the destruction of the forest industry in the last decade, that has survived on growth and housing and construction. So this will be a benefit. But again, it's for a year. It expires around the time of the next election.
Now, it ill behooves me, because I value those people in my community who work in construction, and work hard in it, and all of those contractors who've managed to survive the last couple of years…. I value them. But when the program is only good for a year, you have to ask yourself: is this really about helping the B.C. economy, or is it about helping the B.C. Liberals get another term in office?
On balance, I have to say that I tend to think most British Columbians will see it for exactly what it is — an election gimmick; an attempt to buy favour from the construction industry that has been hit so hard by the government's implementation of the HST, that has been hit so hard by the deceit of a government that chose not to tell the electorate about the implementation of the HST, got elected, turned around and implemented it at no small cost to the economy of British Columbia and — in fairness, as the Bible says, "As you sow, shall you also reap" — at no small political price to be paid by this government that saw, notwithstanding the money it spent to fight it, notwithstanding all the propaganda they produced, the people of British Columbia rise up with a voice that I haven't heard in my time, and that I'm not aware of historically, and basically tell this government they didn't believe them, didn't like being told things that weren't true.
They told the government in a referendum clear as a bell: "You know what? In British Columbia henceforth, you're not going to be able to win an election on false pretences anymore," which is why I'm so proud of our leader, who's made it very clear that when it comes to the next election, what we will propose will be set out clearly, and British Columbians can judge us fair and square, if we're elected government, four years after that election.
L. Krog: I see my friend the member for Chilliwack is speaking again. Well, I'm always delighted to hear his voice. But it's my turn today. It's my turn.
I want to talk a little bit about what the government is proposing to do to save its budgetary skin, so to speak, and that's the disposition of Crown assets. Now, I'm old enough to remember when Pearl Buck was actually a fairly well-read author. The book that basically won her the Nobel Prize for Literature was called The Good Earth. The main character in it is a Chinese farmer called Wang Lung — a peasant, actually — who understood the importance of land, who understood that a person…. Speaking in the language of the time in the book, a man without land was nothing. When you're selling your land, you know things are tough.
John Galsworthy, The Man of Property. How did you achieve success in England? You became the owner of land. Land meant you were somebody. Land was status. Land sustained you. Land provided you an income.
What have we got this government doing? Have they mismanaged things so badly — because that's what this is telling me — in the last 11 years that when you've got a prime piece of Surrey real estate that's now worth roughly four times what the government paid for it back in the '90s, that is in the centre of probably the fastest-growing community in the country…? Are things so bad that this government's going to have to sell it?
What happens in a couple of years, when the Surrey school board says: "We need a school site there"? What happens when some branch of government says: "We need to have offices in Surrey"? What happens if it becomes a necessity to build another hospital of some kind or a health care facility, a university, a college or any public building, any public use?
Do the members opposite, the government, really think they're going to create some new raw land in Surrey? Do they think they're going to pull it out of a hat like a rabbit at a magician's show? Do they honestly think
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that's going to happen? No. This government is bent on disposing of a Crown asset that has obvious and necessary public use.
So I come back to it. This government, in essence, inherited this land from a previous administration. Instead of securing it for the use of future generations, instead of it being an inheritance passed on as a legacy, this government wants to dispose of it, wants to sell it off in order to cover its budgetary problems.
Is that good public policy? Does it make sense? We know that the real estate market is down, generally. We hear the Minister of Finance make little shots over here about New Democrats not having the business experience. Well, as I recall, the Minister of Finance's vast business experience appeared to be running the Total Recall campaign for a little while and a tiny bit of consultancy.
Speaking as someone who's actually met a payroll for a number of years now, I just have to say to him that I think it's a basic of economics that if you are going to sell, you sell when the market is high. If it's really sensible to sell, you sell when the market is high. If we are to believe the Minister of Finance, who's gone on at great length about how terrible the world economy is and how tough things are and on and on, then this may be, from a logical perspective, not the time to sell.
If this government is bent on disposing of Crown assets, then maybe they should wait just a little while, till the market turns around. That might be a logical thing to do. But logic is not what's driving things. I come back to my point. What is driving this government is trying to salvage a political party that is in deep trouble, that is indeed seeing some of its own prominent supporters drift over to the provincial Conservatives, that has seen its support wither away.
I've said, as John Diefenbaker often quoted, that polls are for dogs. I understand that, but you can't ignore polls entirely. Sometimes you have to pay a little bit of attention to them.
The polling would indicate that the Premier serving out Gordon Campbell's term actually hasn't reversed the rather steep decline that was occurring before the Premier left office for greener pastures and the joys of the great city of London — to be High Commissioner to the Court of St. James, no less — before he got that reward from a Conservative government for implementing a Conservative policy under the guise of a Liberal Party.
That is Dave Barrett's great line: "The great thing about being a Liberal? You don't have to be one all the time."
So the Premier has got his reward — the former Premier, I should say. The present Premier — well, she certainly got her reward too, by becoming leader of the B.C. Liberals.
She's got to try and guide this clunky ship of state through some fairly tough waters. One gets the distinct feeling there are not a lot of people bailing. They're a bit tired of bailing. There's a number who are getting ready to jump ship; indeed, a couple already have. We've seen them go fairly quickly, moving on to other experiences that might be somewhat more joyous than being members in this chamber.
Indeed, I see a couple of them now over there who I suspect may not wish to stay on, on the leaky vessel. This is not exactly the Good Ship Lollipop. There's not a lot of sugar left in the old boat now.
L. Krog: She's headed for tough times, and I will just look with interest as I hear the member for Chilliwack talking about dreaming on.
I must say to you directly, hon. Member, through the Speaker of course: it may be a dream over here, but it's really a nightmare over there.
So as we see the withering away of the power of the great B.C. Liberal Party, the inheritor of the power of Social Credit; as we see them flogging off Crown assets in a way that would make W.A.C. Bennett turn in his grave; as we see a ferry corporation deeply in debt, not able to deliver the service it once did; as we see a ferry corporation that has raised rates to such a ridiculous point that you're actually seeing a reduction in ridership for the first time in the history of the B.C. ferry fleet….
We are seeing that great engine of economic development, B.C. Hydro, staggering under a weight of debt created because this government insisted on rewarding its friends with a bunch of private power contracts. So you buy high, and you sell low. Now, there's business wisdom from the other side.
I wonder if the Minister of Finance wants to accept some responsibility for this marvelous British Columbia Liberal–born, B.C.-made policy that has seen B.C. Hydro reduced to a shell of its former self, now debt-burdened for decades, with contracts that the taxpayers will have to pay for.
What we see is a province that is in every way diminished. And it's not me. The member for Surrey-Whalley so wisely, yesterday, reported to this House a few of the remarks from the B.C. Progress Board.
Now, that wasn't an NDP-appointed progress board. That wasn't a non-partisan progress board. That was a board of able people, I might say, appointed by this government.
What did they have to say? In numerous categories there is no question: we are worse off today in British Columbia than we were 11 years ago when this government took office.
Child poverty is worse. We've got the teachers out on strike. We have a growing gap between the rich and the poor. We see the major Crown of the province, B.C. Hydro, in trouble. We see the absolute lifeline to Vancouver Island in trouble — B.C. Ferries.
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A political party polling lower than it has polled throughout its term. A government so desperate that it can't come up with a convincing plan in its own budget. A Premier who prefers to be on radio talking about things, instead of in this chamber. A government that in every way has quite literally run out of gas.
L. Krog: Now, the member for Kamloops, the minister over there, says: where's your budget? I am so delighted to respond to that remark.
If this government is so anxious to hear an NDP budget, let them step aside now. We'll take over. We'll settle things in British Columbia. Then they can have the privilege and honour to sit on this side of the House, asking the questions.
I think British Columbians are asking themselves a very fundamental question, and will be in the next election, when they look at this budget: "Am I better off today than I was 12 years ago?" That'll be the question in the spring. That'll be the question.
You know, I heard the Minister of Agriculture go on at great length at how thrilled he was to be paying $3,000 a year less taxes than he was 11 years ago. I don't suppose the minister actually understands that there's a relationship between taxation and services. Now, the minister is in a bracket where he doesn't have to worry about the paltry things like groceries or meeting the rent that many British Columbians face on a daily basis. So perhaps he's thrilled with that.
Perhaps he doesn't have an aging parent who is on a wait-list to get into a facility. Perhaps he doesn't have to worry about whether or not he can afford the rising price of gasoline with the carbon tax. Perhaps he doesn't have to worry about those kinds of expenses, but hundreds of thousands of British Columbians do on a daily basis. They know the answer to the question I've been asking. They are not better off today. They will not be better off in the spring as a result of this budget.
The only way they're going to be better off is if they send this government packing. That, I suspect, is what's going to happen if we're lucky.
I want to talk a little bit about the budget in a very direct way. Now, these paragons of virtue on the other side, these people who pride themselves on managing the economy so well, these people who were happy to take credit when things were going well and resource prices were up and the revenue was flowing in…. These people now step back and say: "Oh, it's not our fault. It's not our fault. It's the P.I.G.S. It's Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain. It's the world economy. It's Lehman Brothers. It has nothing to do with us." All of a sudden they have discovered, much to our surprise and chagrin, that we're all part of a world economy.
Suddenly they're taking no responsibility for the state of British Columbia's economy. So I have to ask: which is it? If you're going to take credit for the good times, don't you have to take responsibility for the bad times? Are you only here when it's warm and sunny? I mean, talk about a fair-weather friend. The government of British Columbia is only pleased to accept credit and stand in the photo ops when things are going well. But when things get a little tough, well, it's somebody else's responsibility. "It's the P.I.G.S. It's the world economy, but it has nothing to do with us."
This may be, if the government would actually admit it, the opportunity to truly turn British Columbia politics around. This would be that opportunity.
This would be a time for an honest government to step back and say: "You know what? Within the context of globalization, within the context of a world economy, within the context of an economy that may or may not need our resources from time to time, we don't have as much control as we'd like to pretend." But they're not going to say that, because that would be an admission and that would bring the level of debate in this House, as indeed it would in the Parliament of Canada, to a level that most people aren't prepared to go to.
L. Krog: My friend is asking for a bigger deficit. The only deficit in British Columbia today is a deficit when it comes to being honest with the people of British Columbia. That is a deficit borne by this government.
So we've had, of 12 budgets under this government, seven — count them, seven — deficits. Seven deficits. If this were a real corporate entity, if you had a CEO, if you had a board of directors that had managed to take the company into seven years of losses out of 12, you know what you would do with them? You'd fire them. You'd fire each and every one of them. And you know what? I wouldn't give them any severance either.
We don't want to talk about severance, because we've seen the severance packages paid out under this government. The former Deputy Minister to the Premier — now there was a sweetheart deal and a nice good-bye.
With the member from Prince Rupert nearby, I hesitate to bring up B.C. Ferries and the fact that Mr. Hahn can happily golf his way into paradise on one of the fattest public pensions I've ever seen anywhere in this country's history. This government's idea of fiscal management is to have run us into debt, increase the public debt, all at the same time they've managed to exacerbate the gap between the rich and the poor, to place the Crown corporations in serious trouble, and at the end of it they can't even deliver a justice system that actually functions.
Now, I've said it many times. Long before public health care, long before public education, you understood that
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government had a pretty fundamental role in administering a justice system. What have we got today in British Columbia? We have a justice system that by every measure is in crisis. We have a 25 percent increase in the number of cases before the courts as we speak, in a year — 25 percent, a little over 2,500 cases that face the potential of being dismissed. A 25 percent increase in one year.
We're the only province in Canada to have fewer Provincial Court judges today than it had in 2005. We have a government that has been in power for 11 years and is now announcing a review, my goodness, as if this was just like a little thing in the night that crept in to the cabinet chamber and popped up its little head and said: "We have a crisis."
British Columbians, every person working in the justice system, have been saying for ages that there's a crisis in the justice system in British Columbia. The government's response, as we see potential sexual predators and drunk drivers and drug dealers walk free, is to announce a review.
Well, I am in one sense — wait for it, Members — actually pleased the government has in some small way acknowledged the crisis in the justice system, because there are thousands of British Columbians who have been victims of crime, who are looking at this government and saying: "Why is it that the person I'm satisfied assaulted me or stole my property or drove drunk on my highway, who may have injured or killed me…? Why is it that these people get to walk free?"
They get to walk free because this government has deliberately chosen not to give priority to a justice system, which is a fundamental role of government.
As I start to conclude my remarks, I can say this.
L. Krog: I know the member for Chilliwack wants me to speak more, but the rules of the House don't allow it. I know he hangs on my every word.
As I conclude my remarks, judgment day, as they say, will come in the spring of 2013. All I can say is — the Attorney General has often pointed out that I'm a member of the bar; on many occasions she has pointed that out — that I just hope this government has a really good lawyer, because they are in really big trouble.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: It is indeed a pleasure to rise to speak in favour today of Budget 2012. This, as the majority of members have said so far, is a prudent budget that controls government spending while still making necessary investments. Our budget will be balanced by next year, 2013-2014.
This budget provides increases in funding for health care, justice and social development as well as education. The programs that we all value so much are maintained, and we continue to provide financial and other supports for those most vulnerable in our province. This budget demonstrates clearly our belief that the way to economic growth is through lower taxation, in contrast to the opposition, who believe it is through government spending.
I paid attention to the initial response from the opposition, and this is what I heard. I heard more money for post-secondary education, more money for forestry, more money for seniors, more money for skills training, more money for child poverty and more money for economic development.
In fact, my esteemed colleague, the member for West Vancouver–Capilano, did a bit of economic analysis. He is a man who does have some credibility, being a former economist with, I believe, the Royal Bank. The member for West Vancouver–Capilano has done some math and conservatively estimates the promises made by the opposition to add about $6 billion to the budget we see before us today.
He took some time to figure out how you could get this. You could certainly go $6 billion into further deficit. That would be one solution. But another thing he did is…. I think he got out his calculator. I think it went beyond a pencil. He said a way that you could come to arrive at this extra $6 billion for all of these promises — this conservative estimate — would be to increase all taxes in the province by 80 percent. So all taxes increased by 80 percent. That was the suggestion.
That is certainly not our intent. We do not believe that that would do anything for the people of British Columbia. To make it clear, increasing taxes to such a dire degree, or really increasing taxes at all, would make our province look like a very inhospitable place for investment and for future development.
Before I speak in any more detail about the budget, I would like to take a moment to speak personally and to actually thank my husband, Robert; my family; and my friends for the support and love they give me each and every day.
I know that all of us feel this way about our work. It's certainly for me a great honour and a privilege to have been elected to serve the people of Vancouver-Fairview and to also serve as the Minister of Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government. It is a wonderful job, and I love it, but it can be demanding. I'm very grateful to my friends and family for all the ways they provide me with support.
I also want to take a moment to thank my fantastic, talented constituency assistants — Chantal, Adrian and Aaron — who I know are busy right now, as they always are every day. They do their best to help the people of Vancouver-Fairview in any way that they can, and they do it with kindness and respect.
Equally talented and much appreciated by me are the people with whom I work here in the office in Victoria — Yvette, Val, Graham and Joel. I'd also like to thank the
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many dedicated public servants who work in the ministry under the leadership of Deputy Minister Kim Henderson.
I think all of us who work here are aware that there are many unsung heroes in the public service of British Columbia. They are not thanked enough. They are really underappreciated. I want to say now how impressed I am with them and how much I appreciate and respect them and their work.
Turning back to the budget and just some highlights. The province this year forecasts a deficit of $968 million but, for the following two years, surpluses of $154 million in 2013-14 and $250 million the year thereafter. Budget 2012 projects modest economic growth over the next three years. We will continue increasing spending by an annual average of about 2 percent while continuing to protect health and education funding.
We've spoken of this before: this is a prudent budget, and it's the right budget for the times.
The Ministry of Health budget has been talked about before. It will increase by $1.5 billion over the three-year fiscal plan so that it will be nearly $17.3 billion in 2014-15.
We are continuing to achieve key health outcomes. While we keep doing that and continue to lead the country, our government will be working to reduce the rate of growth in health spending through an ongoing focus on identifying additional best practices for delivering care and finding administrative savings. Total spending now in health is 42 percent of all government spending.
There are new tax measures in this budget that benefit seniors, families and businesses in British Columbia. These include the B.C. first-time new-home buyers bonus of up to $10,000. Also included are the B.C. seniors home-renovation tax credit, which is going to make a difference to seniors by providing them with up to a thousand dollars, and also the children's fitness credit and the children's art credit, making a difference to seniors, children and families around the province.
Our corporate income taxes now are among the lowest in the country. Combined with federal tax reductions, the corporate income tax in British Columbia is also one of the lowest in all of the G7 nations. Business owners certainly understand the importance of government balancing its budget.
Keeping the taxes at the levels they are at, keeping them low — importantly, this is a measure that helps us to keep the welcome mat out for British Columbia, to make people know that this is a hospitable place, that we welcome investment. That is what is helping to grow our economy today and will continue to in the future.
The small business corporate tax will be maintained at 2.5 percent, and this will be revisited when our financial situation has improved. There is room in the fiscal plan for a potential temporary 1 point increase in the general corporate income tax to 11 percent, effective April 1, 2014. But this decision will be re-evaluated in next year's budget.
Total capital spending in the next three years will be $19.2 billion, and the taxpayer-supported portion of this is $10.7 billion.
This budget supports the very important B.C. jobs plan in many ways. One of these is that effective April 1 we will be eliminating the provincial jet fuel tax for international flights. Removing the tax will save airlines thousands of dollars a day on long-haul Asia flights. Each daily international flight added to our airports creates 150 to 200 new jobs at the airport, not to mention spinoff jobs and other economic benefits.
Importantly, we're also extending property tax relief for ports, which are vital to our transportation infrastructure. We will introduce legislation to make the existing cap on municipal tax rates permanent. This cap was introduced in 2004 to help make our ports more competitive and spur new investment that would generate new jobs. In 2007 we extended it out to 2018, and we saw investments of more than $1 billion in terminal expansions, which generated hundreds of new jobs. Now we're making the rate cap permanent because it's working. We'll continue to compensate affected local governments.
Madam Speaker, I mentioned different ways we're giving seniors and families with children a break. The home-renovation sector is going to benefit from the B.C. seniors home-renovation tax credit. This will provide a 10 percent refund, up to $1,000 a year, on expenditures made to help seniors stay in their home longer — things like ramps, grab bars or whatever might be helpful to them. This will be available to seniors or family members sharing their homes, regardless of whether they rent or own.
This budget provides adjustment to the homeowner grant, including creating a new supplement for low-income veterans under the age of 65 and extending eligibility for homeowners who have moved into a residential facility but haven't yet sold their home.
In this budget there is investment in ministries that have growing caseload pressures. Budget 2012 is committed — we remain committed — to funding critical social services and reallocating contingency funds to the Ministries of Justice and Social Development, where caseloads continue to rise. Over the next three years $237 million will go to the Ministry of Justice, and this, importantly, includes $66 million a year to pay for 168 police officers hired as part of the government's guns and gangs strategy.
Income assistance will receive an additional $294 million over three years to address a growing demand for disability benefits and also to respond to the relatively high numbers of single employable people who are now receiving assistance. We're taking the same approach with Community Living. B.C. Budget 2012 includes the $40 million previously announced to strengthen supports for individuals with developmental disabilities while also moving forward with the changes recom-
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mended by an internal audit and a rigorous review.
The previous speaker mentioned the surplus assets that the province is going to be preparing to sell over the next while. Madam Speaker, this is not a new process to government. This is something that has happened with our government previously and with other governments in years past.
What we are going to be doing is looking at selling less than 2 percent of our overall property holdings. We're looking at assets that do not have strategic value, that are not part of government's strategic plan and, in some cases, are actually costing taxpayers money rather than generating economic benefit.
By selling some of these properties, we're confident that we're going to be able to spur economic activity throughout the province, while at the same time generating needed revenue. We expect that the sale of these surplus assets can raise more than $700 million over the next three years.
Now, many previous speakers have spoken about personal income tax in the province, and I think we feel the need to set the record straight on income taxes in British Columbia. B.C. families generally have one of the lowest overall tax burdens in Canada, and that takes into account income taxes, consumption taxes, property taxes, health care premiums and payroll taxes.
B.C. currently has the lowest provincial personal income taxes in Canada for individuals earning up to $120,000 a year. Provincial personal income taxes have been reduced by up to about 37 percent for most taxpayers, and even more than that in some cases, since 2001. Today there are an additional 325,000 people in this province who no longer pay any personal income tax at all.
Just a few examples of how this actually impacts on individuals and families. Compared with 2001, today an individual earning $20,000 a year is paying $723 less each year in income tax. If we look at a senior couple whose income together is $40,000 a year, each year they're paying $828 less than they did in 2001. If we look at a family of four whose combined income is $70,000 a year, it's over $2,000 less income tax for them each and every year than it would have been under the taxation in 2001. And an individual can earn at least $19,000 before they pay any income tax at all.
These low income taxes for people — for families, for single people — are making a difference every day all around the province, and that certainly includes my riding of Vancouver-Fairview.
Madam Speaker, I've already mentioned how proud I am to represent this wonderful riding. In my almost three years as their representative I've met with hundreds of constituents, from the very small to some of the senior members of the riding. I've met with teachers and students, small business owners and health care professionals as well as representatives of the many amazing not-for-profit associations in my riding.
I had opportunities to visit many of the schools, but there are a couple of events that really stand out for me. In November I attended a Remembrance Day ceremony at L'Ecole Bilingue. This was put on entirely by the elementary students at the school, and it was an incredibly touching and moving ceremony. In December I attended a Hanukkah concert at Talmud Torah Elementary School, a very special invitation that featured music, dance and hundreds of talented students. It was an amazing show. Not only was it colourful and fun, but it also was highly educational for me and, I imagine, for others who were there.
In visiting schools, I've met many teachers, principals, vice-principals and educational assistants, and they are all doing a stellar job. One of the highlights, for me, of these visits is when the staff members tell me how much they love their work. They know what a difference they're making in the lives of students every day, and they love what they're doing.
Of course, it is great to have time with students of all ages to see and hear what they're learning and to listen to their questions and comments about things they've learned in school, wondering about my job and what I do. It's always inspiring to visit one of our schools, and it always makes me feel just incredibly positive about the future of this great province when I walk out of any of those schools.
Of the constituents I have met with in Vancouver-Fairview — some of the residents as well as some of the business owners — what they have in common is how great they find Vancouver-Fairview as a place to work, live and play.
I've mentioned that Vancouver-Fairview is the home of many incredible not-for-profit associations. I have had opportunities to visit with some of them in my office and some of them where they work. I'm speaking about the budget today, and it is an important budget. It's a fiscally prudent budget and the right budget for this time. But when I think about these not-for-profit associations in Vancouver-Fairview and around our province, it reminds me that no matter what our budget is, no government can do everything, nor should they try.
Whether we are speaking about the provincial, federal or municipal governments, no government can do everything. We can't take it all on, and one thing I've certainly learned over and over as an MLA is that we do some of our best work when we work with partners, and these not-for-profits are just fantastic partners.
Looking at some spending highlights from the budget with particular reference to Vancouver, we've made substantial investments since 2001 on health care capital right around this province — over $7 billion — and we are continuing to make investments to protect and enhance our province's health care.
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The budget provides a $1.5 billion increase to the Ministry of Health budget over the three-year fiscal plan. That will bring it, as I mentioned before, to $17.3 billion in 2014-15. This budget underscores the importance of investment in capital for health care facilities, and there is $2.3 billion in the next year alone.
Here are some examples of how these investments are making a difference in Vancouver-Fairview. Just a couple of months ago I attended the official opening of the Heartwood Centre for Women at the B.C. Women's Hospital. Heartwood is a leading-edge residential substance treatment program, and it's the only program of its kind in the province. It focuses on helping women with significant substance dependence, mental health concerns and primary health care needs. It will provide — in fact, it already is providing — 24-7 service, has a 30-bed capacity for in-patients, and it allows women to stay for up to 90 days.
The province will invest more than $2 million annually to support this great facility. Research has shown that women with substance use issues have more issues with education, employment and income — more difficulties — than their male counterparts. As many as two-thirds of women with substance use problems have concurrent mental health issues such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. This facility is a great step forward in addressing these challenges, and I am proud that our government is supporting women in their recovery and making communities healthier throughout the province.
One more example from Fairview. Last September saw the opening of a $60 million world-class health care research centre in my riding. I was delighted to be there, having been there for the groundbreaking just a couple of years earlier. This is the Robert H.N. Ho research centre. It's located near the Vancouver General Hospital. It houses health professionals looking for treatments and cures for prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and bone and joint mobility problems. The centre is also focusing on early detection and disease prevention. There are about 150 staff working there, and there are 40 new positions within the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility.
I had a chance to speak with some of the people who moved to this facility from other places that they were working, and they really describe it as being like night and day. This is a beautiful building with lots of natural light. Many of them were working in fairly dark and dingy old labs before. They actually feel that their creativity is enhanced and that they're more productive in this new workplace. This is a joint partnership between the provincial and federal governments, Vancouver Coastal Health and the UBC Faculty of Medicine. The total provincial contribution is $22.5 million.
Now, we've talked about this before, but I would like to say again and remind the House that we have some of the best cancer outcomes in the nation right here in B.C. Our survival rates for breast and ovarian cancers are the highest in Canada. This success is directly related to the collaboration between researchers and doctors in this province. This facility continues this trend and will ensure that our survival rates and outcomes remain the best. This is a spectacular facility, and I certainly want to, once again, thank Mr. Robert H.N. Ho for his extraordinary generosity. Another great partnership, but it would not have been possible without his substantial contribution.
There are a few other recent projects — $8 million for renovations and acquisition of two positron emission tomography, PET, CT scanners at the Vancouver cancer centre. At the opening of one of these — again, I was present — we heard from a patient who totally brought us all into understanding what a difference this PET scanner had made for her.
It had made a difference. She was a woman with lymphoma, and because of this technology, she was able to avoid radiation treatment, which in the past would have automatically been given to her. So her treatment was less difficult with less potential side effects. She was enormously appreciative and really helped us all to understand how important this kind of technology is.
There has been another $15 million investment in a radiopharmaceutical lab and cyclotron, again at the Vancouver cancer centre.
Now, with education, just briefly, on October 31, as part of a $353 million capital spending plan, a new elementary school in Vancouver was announced. Just outside of Vancouver-Fairview, this elementary school will be built in the International Village neighbourhood.
In the area of justice we are aware that this budget is allocating an additional $237 million over three years to our justice system with important capital spending commitments, including in Vancouver an investment in the law courts to refurbish plumbing, electrical, ventilation and other building systems. There is also money allocated to correctional centres in the Lower Mainland to support modernizing safety and security equipment.
Additionally, in October of 2011 we announced nine new Provincial Court judges to address caseload pressures on British Columbia courts and improve access to the justice system. Four of these new judges will be appointed to the greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley regions.
Earlier in the House today one of the members opposite talked about the budget, and this is what he said. He said that unionized workers were the heart and soul of the province. I really have to take a moment to say how much I object to this.
When I think about the people in my riding, some of them are unionized workers and certainly an important part of my constituents. But there are small business owners, who very clearly are not unionized workers. There are seniors who are not workers — not unionized workers. There are many people who are left out of
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this — in fact, I would submit, the majority of British Columbians.
I think many of us will feel that we are the heart and soul of the province and that we all share that. I found that to be such a regrettable comment and such an us-versus-them kind of remark to make. I really wanted to say that I see all of my constituents as being part of the heart and soul of this great province.
I truly do believe that this is a budget, with its fiscal prudence, that is the right budget for the people of this province, all of whom have a stake in it and all of whom make contributions in different kinds of ways.
I've already spoken about how important partnerships are. I was delighted this week to have some time to meet with the Hon. Tony Clement, who is president of the federal Treasury Board. He's also the minister who is responsible for the federal government's open government initiatives.
We spoke about how we could work together on our open data and open information initiatives and how, by working together, we could serve our citizens better. I look forward to continuing discussions with him and with other partners. I've certainly already spoken with municipal leaders, as well, right in the city of Vancouver as well as in Williams Lake and Quesnel and North Vancouver. In fact, pretty much anywhere anybody will talk to me about open government, I'm out there talking about it.
It's a relatively new addition to our ministry and, I think, a really exciting area with extraordinary potential. There's potential for us definitely to serve British Columbians, which I think all of us want to do on both sides of the House. There's potential for innovation, and there's potential for really deep and meaningful engagement with the people we all serve.
Open government is about a very different way of doing things. When people think about governments, I think many of them would think of government as being fairly closed. But over the last number of years, countries around the world have been working hard to open things up and provide more transparency. The U.K. and the United States would be a couple of good examples.
We're starting to do this in Canada, and I really am proud to say that here in British Columbia, of all the provinces, we are leading, in no small part through the leadership from our Premier. Our goal, while we do things differently, is to be more responsive to citizens, more transparent and to engage with them in new and different ways. We want British Columbians to truly feel that government is their government in a way that many do not feel today.
We're working in three main areas: open information, open data and citizen engagement. We've opened up government information so that freedom-of-information requests are available to the public and things like ministers' travel expenses are proactively available. We're looking at more ways that we can open up more government information so that people will see what is happening in government, have a better understanding of it and, again, feel that it is their government.
Last summer we launched an open data website, Data B.C. There are now over 2,600 data sets, with more coming on line every week. These are available in a very usable format, machine-readable, and there is an open licence so people can take this data and use it in the ways they wish to.
Having access to information like this is changing government, and it's actually changing the world. Citizens have access to more information than they ever did before, and they're finding ways to create value. They're looking at business opportunities, they're creating apps, and they're just finding out more about government at the same time as they're creating values for themselves and, in some cases, value for others.
On the citizen engagement side, I am proud to say that we are leading the way. We are committed to openness and transparency and to engaging. We're looking at ways to do things differently and certainly learning from other jurisdictions along the way.
We want to hear directly from British Columbians, and we want them to know not only that we're listening but that there are real opportunities for them to interact with government and that they can have a voice in some of the policies that are actually going to be developed that will impact on their lives. We recognize that it's not good enough for us to simply listen. We have to demonstrate that we are taking feedback from citizens into account when we make decisions that affect their lives.
[D. Black in the chair.]
One of the engagement strategies that is already underway is the B.C. education plan. The bcedplan.ca is an interactive website where literally thousands of British Columbians have already visited and left their thoughts. We have had people from all over the province participate on this website and leave very thoughtful contributions.
We've heard from teachers in the Peace River region, students in Victoria, parents in the Fraser Valley, interested citizens in the Kootenays — people from literally every corner of this province — and we certainly hope to hear from more people as the weeks go by. We will report back on what we've heard on the site by posting summaries of themes, and these ideas are going to be informing the discussions at the Ministry of Education.
Just last month, in January, the Minister of Finance launched a new website that invited British Columbians to balance the budget for 2013-14, and people found various different ways to balance that budget, in some cases — in many cases, in fact — by increasing tobacco taxes, interestingly.
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People were able to find their way to a balanced budget, see some of the difficulties that could happen along the way and some of the challenges, and then they were able to send their comments along to the Finance Minister, their solutions and their comments. This website was informative for people about the budget, but it did give them the chance to actually participate and forward information to the minister.
Madam Speaker, I need to draw to a close now, but I want to say that we are absolutely committed to further developments in this area. This is a priority for government. And I want to conclude by saying that we are opening government up and engaging in more deep and meaningful ways with British Columbians so that we can better serve them and work with them.
I also want to say how fortunate I feel to live in this province, how fortunate we all are. I think we have an incredibly bright future here in British Columbia. It's wonderful to live here in one of the most beautiful places on earth. We've come forward with a prudent budget that is good for British Columbia, and again, I am pleased to have had this opportunity to speak strongly in favour of Budget 2012.
G. Coons: It's a great honour and privilege to be here representing the constituents of North Coast and being able to talk to the budget. I do have to agree with the minister that British Columbia is a beautiful province, and I have to admit that I think that the North Coast is one of the most pristine, beautiful areas, ridings, within the province.
I do have to comment on a few things that the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Labour have brought out. It seems that the government members are stuck in a rut on what the opposition is going to do when we get to be government. They're asking about a budget; they're asking about plans. Well, you'll find that out in about a year and a half from now, when this side of the House is on the other side.
This government seems very distracted with that — disorganized, out of gas. I dare say that I believe that this government has failed to do their job and their due diligence on behalf of British Columbians because they are so distracted, with no focus, no vision and no plans for British Columbia. It's highlighted with the Premier sitting there asking the opposition questions during question period like she's practising to be Leader of the Opposition. I think that's what she's doing.
Now, on that, I represent the North Coast. It's diverse, unique, challenging, the best riding, and there are many issues. Today there's an announcement with the federal government at the port talking about some economic development coming into the region. Ridley and the grain and the port are working well, and we're moving along. But some of the issues that my constituents have concerns with were not brought up in this budget.
The minister has talked about reducing taxes versus taxation, and we need that discussion in British Columbia. We need a discussion on fair taxation. It seems that the taxation or the lack of taxation or the taxation policies of the government seem to benefit the few. We see that in this budget.
Some of the comments from this budget…. We heard them today: grim, harsh, lack of compassion, callous. Those are just some of the words thrown out describing this budget that was presented last Tuesday. Callous. What is callous? Showing no concern that other people are or might be hurt or upset.
When we look at this and realize where these words came from…. Well, the sharpest attacks and angriest words came from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth. She was highly critical, calling this budget callous. She says it's fine to have a harsh economic strategy, but at least soften it out by some compassionate approach toward people who are suffering through a deep recession.
She said she would like to have seen supports for vulnerable children and families in areas such as education and income assistance. She refers to the budget as grim — there's very little in there for struggling families — and predicts the long-term effects will be significantly harsh. Pretty strong language directed at a government whose main priority is supposedly families first.
I can envision the Premier and the Finance Minister as they're putting this together. Yeah, yeah, families first. Families can be first in line at the soup kitchen, first in line at the food bank, first in line struggling for affordable housing, first in line struggling to get the services that this budget is denying.
She talked about the priorities of this government. She said the most vulnerable citizens of British Columbia have been sort of told their interests will be put on hold while another set of interests is addressed, and I think that's a choice that will have a long-term cost for British Columbia.
It comes down to priorities, and I believe that's the difference between this side of the House and that side of the House — priorities. British Columbians recognize, I believe, that this budget did not meet the priorities of the majority of British Columbians. I do agree with our respected children's advocate, and I believe for a long time the priorities of this B.C. Liberal government have been on the wrong track — a similar track that led to the B.C. Rail corruption scandal.
They were also on the wrong track with that one, deceiving taxpayers and getting caught, leaving British Columbians, the taxpayers, paying $6 million to cover the legal fees of two Liberal staffers who admitted taking bribes. My colleague before mentioned a sinking ship. Well, a runaway train. People are hanging on the caboose, and a few are falling off.
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It's about priorities. I think that's what we have to get down to in this discussion, and as Turpel-Lafond says: "We are turning British Columbia into a society that is deeply divided." That's our fear. We see the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. Now, again, those aren't my words, so I can see that the rhetoric is down a bit because these are words not coming from the opposition.
Also, Mario Canseco from Angus Reid, his input on the budget: "Just because of the Liberals' low poll numbers, they had to design a budget to try to win elections." I guess there are a couple of by-elections coming up and the 2013 election, so that's his take on it. It was an election budget, you know, based on their own agenda, and scrambling for themselves and over themselves. That's the view of the Angus Reid pollster.
Hamish Telford, from the University of the Fraser Valley, a political scientist, adds to the commentary. Basically, he says the Premier has backed up their families-first rhetoric with very little substance in the budget — just highlighting the failure of this Premier to put together her first budget.
She had an opportunity. The Premier had a great opportunity to take the lead, to show the leadership that the majority of B.C. Liberal members thought she had — not the majority of B.C. MLAs; the Liberal MLAs, I guess. And she failed, along with a few other failures, whether it was having an early election — oh yeah, that sort of fell aside; or riot TV — that sort of fell aside; or the HST — well, that's still hanging around.
Again, this budget and the Premier's families-first budget is basically a missed opportunity, a missed opportunity for British Columbians and for the Premier. It's unfortunate. She was convinced to bring this forward, I guess, I don't know by whom.
Most British Columbians expect modest budgets in difficult economic times, but again, it's all about priorities. When we start looking at priorities that work for British Columbians, it seems that the budget before us is not working, and it won't work.
If we look at some previous B.C. Liberal priorities that cost plenty…. The sell-off of B.C. Rail — they promised to not sell it, and then they did. There was the follow-up raid on the Legislature — somewhat embarrassing, I guess. Then there's a court case and on and on. I don't think that it's over yet.
The $6 million payout to the insider friends who pleaded guilty — that's just one messed-up priority that fell by the wayside. There are the $600 million for a roof at B.C. Place Stadium, recently the $30 million payout for Boss Power after this government apparently broke the law over mining permits, and of course, the HST calamity.
I think, with this budget…. And I'm going to get into some of the aspects of the budget that one would question. There's a $15 million ad campaign to sell the Premier and her so-called jobs plan. Is that a priority at this time for British Columbians? Well, I think if you asked most British Columbians or the people I represent, I don't think this would be a priority. I think that that money could be better spent listening to people who are on the front lines. Obviously, this government did not. And I believe that most taxpayers would agree that this is not a priority for them.
I see a similar reaction here with B.C. Ferries and their ad contract at Rogers stadium. You remember, you watched the Canucks and you got the big JumboTron, and "B.C. Ferries" flashing off that and "B.C. Ferries" on the boards. I don't think that was a priority, either, for B.C. Ferries or for this government to allow B.C. Ferries to do that. And then they don't even declare the contract they have. They said: "It wasn't signed; it was a verbal one." Well, that's hard to believe. I think the minister responsible said he was going to be looking into this. So we look forward to that.
As British Columbians are told to tighten their belts — I read that in a few papers there, "a bit of belt-tightening" — it seems that the Premier hasn't taken that advice for her own office. While the government and the people that work for the government have been careful about the optics of a ballooning Premier's office budget, there's no denying that job growth in this Premier's B.C. is mainly in her own office.
There has been some decrease in the overall budget, but the Premier's own budget did increase by 9.5 percent. You sort of have to scratch your head when British Columbians are told, "Tighten the belt; tough times," but the Premier's office goes up 9.5 percent. And that's because she's stacked up her office with highly paid friends and insiders, surrounding herself with some highly paid advisers.
There are at least 18 political advisers and staffers, two who earn $195,000 or better and another four over $120,000. That seems to be the job action in action — more hiring in the Premier's office. So you've got to take that with a grain of salt.
This budget should not be about or for the B.C. Liberals. This budget should not be for the opposition. It should not be for the friends and insiders of whatever party, whoever they may be, and it definitely should not be about another photo op for the media. It should be, as any budget should be, about the people of British Columbia. I believe this budget fails in that capacity in so, so many ways.
My constituents on the north coast, whether it's Haida Gwaii or Prince Rupert, Port Ed; or down the coast — Lax Kw'alaams, Metlakatla, Hartley Bay, Kitkatla; whether it's Klemtu, Bella Bella, Bella Coola, Rivers Inlet — the Great Bear rain forest basically — had visions that we would see a budget that worked for those that needed it and presented a clear path for B.C. when it's clearly needed. But not so. And as others have called this, you know,
[ Page 9422 ]
a short-sighted, callous Budget 2012….
On CBC Daybreak North, talking to northerners, mostly Prince George…. I think they did that show in Prince George. What were they expecting and hoping for? They were looking for an investment in seniors and health care. They were looking for affordable, adequate housing. They wanted initiatives to fix the broken social safety net that's been weaved by the B.C. Liberal government for ten or 11 years. They were looking for something in the budget for jobs training.
These were topping the list as priorities of the people in the north, from this government in this budget. But basically, I could say that I saw nothing from the budget for northerners to grasp on to.
What we did see were a few token spending announcements — basically, nothing to write home about and barely worth a mention. Now, there was a lot of to-do and fanfare when the Finance Minister brought forward the tax credits, the two new ones for parents — for parents that can already afford to dish out the upfront fees for the fitness and art credit.
On Tuesday the minister stood up, and the mantra was that a family with three children can claim up to $1,500 a year — $500 in eligible expenses each. But he fails to mention the math behind that — that at its maximum, this new tax credit will provide up to $50 per child and only if the parents spend over a thousand dollars. So you spend a thousand dollars, and you get back $50.
Okay, so a thousand dollars…. The soccer — okay, maybe a hundred or two. So you get back some chump change or something for that. But again, it's not quite a real deal, not a deal for those families struggling with poverty issues, as they will likely get nothing, as they can't afford to lay out the upfront costs for any sports or arts fees.
If you take it a bit further, at $50 for a $1,000 spent on fees, then you might assume that to get your $500 rebate, you have to spend close to $10,000 on fees. Now, I'm not saying that these figures are exact, but you start looking at that, and you can see that to get the maximum tax credit of $500, you need to enrol your kid in a pretty skookum type of program.
Again, when we look at that, I don't think that's what the Finance Minister said — making life a little easier for families. And the Finance Minister has the gall to tell Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond that the two new tax credits should alleviate the harsh criticism of his family budget, for the people that can afford it. But that's what we learned to expect from this government.
Another ace in the hole, or a rabbit in his hat, is the seniors home-renovation tax credit — up to $1,000 a year. But it seems to have the same play as the children's tax credit. You know, only the rich can sort of wheel and deal with that.
Now, we look at the latest reaction. This is not coming from me. The latest reaction to the seniors renovation tax credit is quite interesting. Art Kube of the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of B.C. says: "The tax credit is a 'disappointment' because seniors would have to spend $10,000 on renovations to receive the full allowance." So you would have to spend $10,000 to get your $1,000 — right? "It means no furnace, no new refrigerator. Thousands of seniors don't have that kind of money," he said.
I can see the Minister of Justice here. The manager for the Prince George Council of Seniors says: "A new tax credit…for seniors home renovation will not benefit low-income seniors." The minister's there, having a few words here, so maybe she should talk to Lola Dawn Fennell, because she doesn't see this tax credit benefiting all seniors. So if you aren't benefiting all seniors, who are you benefiting? You're benefiting the ones that can afford it, the ones that can afford the $10,000 for types of renovations.
Now, the province is also excluding standard appliances from the eligibility, as well as general home maintenance, including roof and window repairs, flooring and painting. Services like home care and housekeeping are also excluded.
So when seniors see this…. Yes, when I sat here in the House and heard about these tax credits, I went: "Okay, yeah. Might be good. I'd have to know a bit of the details. I'd need to find out from a few of the stakeholders." And we're finding out. Fennell, from the Prince George Council of Seniors, says "she would have preferred to see home care funding to allow seniors to stay in their homes longer" — so another disappointment from this government.
Again, two attempts to smokescreen British Columbians by this government — a bit of juggling, misleading struggling families with children and seniors on this smoke-and-mirrors budget. What seniors heard and what families heard was silence on issues that are important to them.
Another jewel offered up for those with bulging wallets was the tax credit for new secondary homes outside the greater Vancouver and capital regional districts. So you could have somebody with a fair amount of money — like, let's just say, the David Hahns of the world, the ex-million-dollar man who's taking home $300,000 a year on pension.
Let me just repeat that — $300,000 a year on pension, because of this government's policies. Now he can buy a vacation condo somewhere up the hill at Whistler, and he gets to pocket an extra $10,000 due to this budget, while families and seniors are left scratching their heads. You start to see what's working here. There seems to be a real disconnect between the one side of the House and this side of the House.
Another interesting concept in this budget was the selling off of the so-called surplus public assets to the private sector. It was bad policy when this government sold
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off our valued public resource B.C. Rail for no benefit, and it's still bad policy. I believe we should be ensuring schools and hospitals and municipalities have the necessary tools to operate, instead of having a garage sale of our public assets.
We should be using these assets to assist and sustain economic activity and jobs in every part of the province.
Now, you don't sell your assets, your public assets, to try to balance your books. Just today, with the Provincial Capital Commission, three people pulled their names off that commission. One of them is Victoria Coun. Geoff Young — says it's not in the public interest and would do more harm to the interests of the city. So he resigned from the Provincial Capital Commission for this reason.
Another Victoria councillor, Ben Isitt, adds: "Privatizing public land and public assets is extremely shortsighted. We keep lands in the public domain to advance values that may not be adequately addressed by the public sector."
Okay, so another shortsighted policy by the government, a garage sale of our public lands and assets. But what are British Columbians going to actually see from this budget, and what impacts will it have on them?
Well, when you break it open, we're going to be looking at MSP, medical service premiums, going up 4 percent and hydro rates up 7 percent. We've heard the story of what this government has done with B.C. Hydro — dozens of deferral accounts, deferring off billions of dollars for future generations. They claim that we have to protect British Columbia for our grandchildren. Here they are, running B.C. Hydro into the ground.
ICBC rates going up 11 percent. Tuition fees for students going up 5 percent in the first year of this budget. I don't think that these are making life more affordable for British Columbians. I would say that the families-first agenda from this Premier who, as I mentioned before, had a great opportunity to show her stuff: "This is what I'm made of. This is what I can put forward. This is how I can convince British Columbians that I do have a vision, a path, some thought towards where we need to go…." But, again, it's a dismal failure that we got on this path.
Now, what we do have…. We still have the HST. That's still around until April 2013, the huge tax shift, a $2 billion tax shift that the people of B.C. voted down because this government wasn't quite upfront with them. You know, a little bit of deception and a little bit of misleading, basically minutes after the last provincial election. We were told straight-faced by the Finance Minister of the day that this is the best thing for British Columbia, this is the best thing since sliced bread, and that we must go ahead, as it's best for the economy, for the people.
Well, this government was told on this to take your tax hike and go for a hike. You know, get rid of it. We had the referendum, a strong referendum, telling this government that they're going in the wrong direction, their priorities are wrong. And what happens? Nine or ten months to bring in the HST; 20 months to get rid of it. A real fiasco.
Who suffers because of these B.C. Liberal policies? Families, small businesses, students, seniors and the most disadvantaged. We see that real split in our province. A $2 billion tax shift from corporations onto the backs of ordinary British Columbians, ordinary families, and then the government missed the opportunity to try to smooth that over with the budget they brought in, a failed budget — this Premier just still behind the eight ball on what she's up to, I think, in this place.
Now, the government, the B.C. Liberals, continue to rely on regressive tax increases that hit families hard. I mentioned another MSP hike — 4 percent. Well, this increase alone, which is scheduled to come in January 1, 2013, will take more money out of B.C. families' pockets.
With the increase that was announced, individuals will pay $366 more every year for MSP than they were in 2001, and families will pay an additional $732 a year, more than an 85 percent increase since 2001. The latest premium hike means that under this government MSP premiums have almost doubled — very similar to ferry fares. Ferry fares have gone up six times on the minor routes.
I can hear the ferry horn out there. I'll get into ferries soon. I had that timed.
Jordan Bateman from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation agrees that the huge hikes in MSP premiums are becoming a burden for many families. And this government continues on their merry way. You know, in the last decade under this government we've seen continuously reduced support in many of our public services, and they've shifted the cost burden on to individuals and families.
It's about priorities, hon. Speaker. It's decisions. This government have set their priorities, and their priority is not to take on the serious social issues that families in B.C. are faced with, whether it's poverty, homelessness, the growing inequality gap — all impacting children, vulnerable seniors, students and B.C. families.
Again, with this budget and this government, the big winners are the most wealthy in the province, reaping the lowest income tax rate in the country. I'm sure I'll hear the pounding. Oh, I guess not.
That impacts what's happening in our province for public services. We need that debate. We need that debate on fair taxation. We need to have a debate on fair taxation so that the 1 percent doesn't go against the 99 percent.
Hon. Speaker, noting my time is going and the ferry horn went, I do want to talk very briefly about ferries and what's happened there, where the minister, on his desk, has the ferry commissioner's report. He's sitting on his hands — 24 recommendations. There have been outrageous fare increases, ridership declines. This government has failed in serving British Columbians in coastal com-
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munities and in island communities. The minister needs to act on the recommendations.
There are so many things that I haven't talked about, whether it's advanced education, forestry, agriculture, justice, education — a disappointing education budget out there, where it's going to lead to more cuts after a decade of cuts for this government.
What we've seen in this budget is no vision. There's nothing to help families, vulnerable seniors, students or children in need. It abandons a huge component of British Columbians, probably close to 99 percent, because the 1 percent will do pretty well under this B.C. Liberal government and this budget.
I mentioned that the Premier had a great opportunity and she dropped the ball. Michael Prince says he saw this budget as bizarre, a mix of gimmicks, glibness and grim news, and that's why I will oppose this budget when it comes to a vote.
J. Les: It's always such a pleasure to rise in this House and take part in the debate, in this case on the budget. I've been here almost 11 years now, and it's still truly an honour to be able to do this and to discuss issues that are of great importance to British Columbians and issues that will be tremendously important for a long time to come.
A budget is something that is not just for the here and now but is indeed a template for the future. This is one budget that I am very proud to stand behind. I'm very proud to support the Finance Minister.
I think we have laid out a course that is careful, that is conservative, that is cautious in what are indeed, internationally, very tenuous economic circumstances.
The critic opposite, of course, just spent the half-hour before me, and I listened very, very carefully to his comments. I might respond to a few of them, as I continue with my remarks.
You know, members in the debate in the last day or so have made comments and have drawn on various reactions to the budget. Just this morning there was a circular that came into my e-mail inbox. It was from the B.C. Central Credit Union, Helmut Pastrick who is, I'm sure, familiar to all members of this House. I suspect that most members opposite are indeed members of the credit union. He did a summary and his evaluation of the provincial budget that was tabled on Tuesday.
He goes on to say:
"Conservative revenue projections and modest expense growth returns the province's fiscal position to a surplus in fiscal year 2013-2014. Revenue surprises will be on the upside, and a surplus may emerge one year earlier. The large deficit in the current fiscal year is largely due to the HST repayment."
I think that we all knew that.
"Debt projections will likely prove too high by a considerable margin. The provincial government's fiscal position will be viewed favourably by bond-rating agencies and business, while some others will be disappointed that there is not more spending on public services."
I suspect that amongst that group would be the members opposite, because as I have carefully listened to the debate over the last day and a half or so, it is clear to me that the common theme from members opposite is that we are not spending enough.
But I am proud to say that this budget reflects only a modest spending increase over the next three years of slightly less than 2 percent per year, and I think in the economic circumstances that we find ourselves in, that is exactly appropriate.
The notion that you can spend your way to prosperity and that you can tax people until they bleed simply never did have any credibility and, certainly, has no currency in the current economic circumstances. We've seen that all over the world. We have seen governments that have made a practice of spending wildly, and they have certainly lived to regret those kinds of decisions. You know, typically, they have been socialist governments that have loved to spend money irresponsibly.
I'm a great fan of Margaret Thatcher. I thought she was one of the greatest prime ministers that Great Britain ever had. She said this, and I think I quote accurately. "Socialism is great, but pretty soon you run out of other people's money to spend." And that pretty much captures what the issue is in terms of overspending people's ability to support those kinds of expenditures.
So we've taken a different tack. We have produced a budget that is modest in terms of spending increases, that is responsible and that will prove to be a leader in Canada in charting the way forward and leading us to further economic prosperity.
It's important to think about things like our credit rating. You know, I don't hear members opposite talking about our credit rating too much, because when they were government they had six consecutive credit-rating downgrades — six consecutive credit-rating downgrades.
Since we had the honour of forming government, we've had seven credit-rating upgrades, and we now have the highest possible credit rating, a triple-A credit rating, which is saving British Columbians tens of millions of dollars a year in interest payments — tens of millions of dollars per year that we can put into serving the public of British Columbia.
Also in the 1990s…. You know, I don't want to dwell too much on the 1990s because it was a pretty desperate decade, but I remember this pretty clearly. Our circumstances dwindled to the point where we became a have-not province. A have-not province — can you imagine? We were receiving federal welfare payments, something that I found, as a British Columbian, truly embarrassing. Several years after we became government we then were able to dig ourselves out of that horrible financial hole and put B.C.'s finances back on a solid track.
Now, you'll hear members opposite saying that they actually produced a balanced budget in 2000-2001. Yes,
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they did, but only because there was a one-time pension adjustment. That little detail, of course, they fail to mention. Their structural deficit was actually in the order of about $4 billion a year.
So in spite of our government holding the line on increased taxes, we are still able to invest significant additional money in important areas like health care, education and justice. In health care, for example, there will be another $1.5 billion invested over the three years of this budget — an additional $1.5 billion going to health care. It is the fastest-growing ministry in government, reflecting the fact that we have an aging demographic and that with improved technology, we can do more things. So it's important that we protect our ability to invest in health care, and we are doing just that.
Also, in education there's an additional $165 million, particularly directed at special needs education. I'm particularly proud that we're able to do that. I think that our education system deserves that kind of an injection of capital. Again, increased funding with a declining enrolment. So by any measure, I think British Columbians would agree that that is a pretty responsible allocation towards the education system in this province.
In justice as well there's an increased injection of $237 million over the next three years. We've all seen a situation where in spite of the fact that our crime rates are coming down…. They're at their lowest level in 30 years. We have fewer cases going to court in British Columbia, and yet the pressure on the courts seems to be increasing for some reason. Now, we have not yet got to the bottom of exactly why that is, but in the interim there's an additional $237 million to do such things as, for example, hiring more sheriffs and hiring an additional nine Provincial Court judges, so that's going forward.
But while I'm on the topic of court facilities, I can't help but talk for a few minutes about the court facilities in Chilliwack. I'm actually going to go back. I'm going to go way, way back.
J. Les: No, I was older than 12, but the year was 1972. It was a Social Credit government in the province of British Columbia that decided to buy 92 acres at the Lickman Road interchange in Chilliwack. They were there going to build the campus of the Fraser Valley College as it then was, now the University of the Fraser Valley — 92 acres set aside.
I was a young fellow in 1972, and I was delighted. Don't forget, this was an environment where we had UBC, we had the recently started Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, and that was it in terms of post-secondary education facilities in the Lower Mainland. Maybe I should add one more. BCIT was there, as well, at the time.
We were delighted. The community thought: "We're going to have this beautiful 92-acre campus in a very nice setting." Then the government changed. In 1972 the Dave Barrett NDP government was elected, and we were denied our new Fraser Valley College campus. So I guess as I started this paragraph, I should have entitled it: "How my community gets hammered every time an NDP government gets elected."
So that was a very unhappy experience, obviously. Let me fast forward to 1991. Again, a Social Credit government decided that we needed new court facilities in Chilliwack. Yes, we did. The court facilities were becoming pretty dilapidated, and it was high time. So the then government bought property at the corner of Young and Chilliwack Central. I believe it was 11 acres — a beautiful piece of property.
The city council that I was the head of at the time rezoned the property, and we were ready to go. We were excited. The plans were ready. The government changed. An NDP government under Mike Harcourt was elected.
J. Les: Wait for it, Members opposite. I think you can anticipate the next shoe that's going to drop here.
We did not get a courthouse. The plans were thrown out the window, and we were denied that significant investment and that necessary investment in our community.
So then we go forward another few years. I believe it was 1998. My colleague and friend — then MLA for the riding of Chilliwack — Barry Penner brought to this House the concern about the Chilliwack courthouse and the crummy and dilapidated state that it was in. I can't help but imagine that it was just purely out of spite. The then NDP government decided: "We're closing the courthouse." I can still feel in my bones today the outrage that swept through my community.
Before too many days went by, Barry Penner was able to come to this House and deliver a 14,000-name petition protesting the closure of the courthouse. I still remember standing on the steps of the courthouse on a cold noonhour in February, a Wednesday afternoon I believe it was, with about 1,500 or 2,000 people around me who were all so upset that a government would have the temerity to rip a courthouse out of our community that had been there since 1894, a community that was 80,000 people. It was completely outrageous.
I then went to meet with the then Attorney General, Ujjal Dosanjh, and after several meetings we were able to persuade them to keep the courthouse open for a couple of more years. The city council actually contributed funds towards the operation of that courthouse.
In the meantime, a committee was established to review that decision and to see what the way forward should be. That committee recommended that indeed a new courthouse was needed in Chilliwack. Ultimately,
[ Page 9426 ]
that was proceeded upon when, fortunately, a new government was elected in 2001, although we took steps prior to that, as a city, to assemble the property and ensure that we had a great site available in downtown Chilliwack.
So imagine my amazement when over the last several days the Leader of the Opposition, for example, who was in my riding, and — as recently as today, I understand — the member for Nanaimo, the critic for the Attorney General's ministry, have had some things to say about certain delays in the court system in Chilliwack. Now, there have been delays. Yes, there are. As I've already explained, we are dealing with those and what the causes are for the symptoms that we're seeing.
I think that it is awfully rich for NDPers to come to my community and to have anything to say about the courthouse at all, because if it had been up to the NDP, we would not have a courthouse in Chilliwack at all. It would not be there. They would have shut it down, and we would not have justice in Chilliwack at all. But yes, they come to my community, and they hold forth in all of the gall and all of the hypocrisy they can possibly muster. It's just a little much, I've got to say.
I just needed to put some of that on the record, Madam Speaker, because, you know, talk is pretty cheap some days. The members of the opposition — I just couldn't let them get away with that.
Thanks to some good decisions that were made around the turn of the decade, we now have a fine court facility in Chilliwack. We will get to the bottom of why the delays are happening in spite of the fact that we've hired more judges and hired more sheriffs and in spite of the fact that, as I've said, in this budget there's an additional $237 million over three years to ensure that we have the resources that we need.
Let me turn to a few of the other provisions that are in the budget. I was particularly pleased to see the removal of the two-cent jet fuel tax. That's not only going to make the Vancouver International Airport more competitive, which is very, very important…. In terms of the hierarchy of airports in British Columbia, obviously, the one that we all know drives the airport business in British Columbia is YVR.
We've already seen some significant expressions from international airlines that they will be doing more business in British Columbia as a result of the removal of this tax, which keeps us competitive with other airports around the world.
My colleague from the Comox Valley talked about YQQ, the airport in Comox. Not too far from where I live in Abbotsford we have YXX, the Abbotsford International Airport, and it, too, is a significant economic driver in the Fraser Valley. In addition to that, it's also extremely convenient for people in the Fraser Valley if they need to fly to Calgary or to Toronto or to sunnier climes in the wintertime using the charter services that are available at that time of the year.
Flying out of Abbotsford is a pretty attractive option. I've used it myself a number of times. The Abbotsford airport, too, will become more competitive as a result of the removal of this tax, so I look for further growth there as well.
One of the other measures in the budget was the targeted $10,000 grant to first-time homebuyers. I'm a great believer that if people are able to own homes, that's a great social policy. Assisting people to buy their own home with that extra $10,000, I think, will assist greatly. I have already heard from homebuilders who are very pleased with this because they know that this is going to drive more business for them. It will put more people to work. It will increase tax bases in communities. So I think that's great all around.
In the day when I bought my first house…. I didn't buy a new house. It was a used home that we bought at the time, and the grant that was available was only $500. Now, on an adjusted basis it would be more than $500 today, but not as much as $10,000, so I think this is a real contribution in those situations.
The members opposite have also set their hair on fire about the fact that we're proposing to dispose of some unneeded provincially held properties. Now, as the Finance Minister made clear in his remarks, we're talking here about roughly 2 percent of the provincial property inventory — about 2 percent. You hear wild statements from members opposite as if we were selling off…. It was a fire sale and all of that. Of course, all of that is complete nonsense.
There are indeed some very, very valuable provincial properties that, once they are released to the private sector, will indeed contribute significantly to build tax bases in communities. It will add to significant additional employment and investment in our province. One of the previous speakers actually stole my thunder a little bit, because I, too, had done a little bit of research as to: have provincially owned properties been sold before?
I came up with the same one that the Minister of Finance had dug up for question period. That was the Oakalla lands in Burnaby that were sold by the NDP government in 1995. Let me say at the outset: I completely agree that was the right decision to make then — absolutely, no question about it.
That property was sold in 1995 for $45 million. The estimated economic activity that ensued as a result of that sale was $120 million in 1998 dollars, so probably in today's dollars more like about $200 million worth of economic activity. I think it's important to pay attention to those kinds of things.
So that property from 1995 onward didn't just lie vacant and become, probably, an eyesore in the community. No, it was bought by developers. They developed the property. I'd be interested to see what the property tax contribution is from that property to the city of Burnaby
[ Page 9427 ]
today. It would be substantial. So my question to the opposition is: why not? Why not put these unused properties to productive economic use around the province?
This is exactly what we should be doing. We should be encouraging job creation. We should be encouraging investment in the province. When we have assets that we don't need as a province, then we should be releasing them and allowing the private sector to utilize them for investment, job creation and future revenue production at both the local and the provincial government level.
I was also very pleased to see that we are going to make permanent the tax relief that was provided to the various ports around the province. That has been extremely well received by people in the ports business — the shippers and people involved in moving goods on- and offshore in the province of British Columbia.
As a result of capping those taxes several years ago, there has been an additional $1 billion of port investment in the province of British Columbia. That's not just a billion of port investment. There are numerous jobs in British Columbia that have flowed from that as well.
Those are all sort of the major things that we're doing in British Columbia, but it always comes down to the individual and how well they are doing.
We've got an additional 400,000 jobs in British Columbia that we've created in the last ten or 11 years. At the same time, while many of these jobs are good, family-supporting jobs, we have also decreased taxes in British Columbia — not just corporate taxes, as the members opposite would like to try to make out.
J. Les: Our small business taxes, for example, are being maintained at 2.5 percent. If the member from Port Alberni has a problem with that, I'd like him to talk about that a little bit more.
Here's the thing. When you look at the personal income taxes that are currently being paid by people in British Columbia…. I have a few examples. An individual that earns $20,000 a year — clearly not a high-income person; that is a low-income individual — pays $723 less in provincial income taxes than they did in 2001.
A senior couple earning $40,000 a year pays $828 less in provincial income taxes today than they did under the NDP government. An individual earning $50,000 a year pays $1,435 less in provincial income taxes than they did under the NDP government. A family of four earning $70,000 a year pays $2,158 less in provincial income taxes than they did in the days of the NDP.
I think that those are important things to keep in mind. We are a government that believes that, amongst the many good things that a provincial government does, it should also try to leave as much money in people's pockets as possible so that they can make choices as to where they can spend their hard-earned money.
I'm going to have to wrap up here fairly soon. I just wanted to put this in a context of the international environment, as I said earlier. We do live in a pretty tenuous situation, I believe. We think we have a budget that will stand the test of time because we have a lot of prudence built into that budget, and that may turn out to be a very necessary thing.
Personally, I do not like the situation in Europe at all. I don't think the Greek situation is contained. I am horrified at the trillion-dollar-plus deficit in the United States. I am really concerned about the debt-to-GDP ratio in Japan, which is a major trading partner of British Columbia.
There are, I think, a lot of choppy economic waters that we have yet to navigate. So I am pleased that we're able to put together a budget that has various levels of prudence built into it and that is careful and cautious, so that if there are more economic adversities going forward, we can deal with those and not have them wreck our budget.
The other part of that discipline, of course, is public sector wage settlements. I want to take a minute here to recognize the public sector unions, in particular, that over the last several years have settled for zero-and-zero wage increases, an important contribution, I believe, to the financial success of this province.
It's an important recognition that we all need to contribute something to ensure that we come out the other side of these soft economic circumstances in a way that we can go forward as a province and continue to build this province for our children and grandchildren.
I think it's important to recognize that contribution and hope that we can continue those kinds of constructive dialogues. If we're looking at moving forward with those same public sector unions and trying to find potential increases for them in a different way, where we can identify savings within the current budgets, I think that's an important way to proceed as well, and I look forward to contributing to that exercise.
In summary, Madam Speaker, I think this is a budget that is responsible. It is conservative in its revenue projections. It is restrained and responsible in its spending recommendations. It is a budget that I think our children can look back at many years from now and say that the government of the day in 2012 did the right thing.
V. Huntington: I'd like to just remind the member for Chilliwack, following his wonderful remarks, that it was his government that closed the courthouse in Delta.
I'm pleased to speak in response to the budget introduced earlier this week by the government. But before I discuss the budget, I'd like to acknowledge the recent efforts of the government members who, over the past two weeks, have dutifully laid the groundwork for this budget by raising the spectre of Greece, Spain, Italy and Ireland.
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I would love to have been a fly on the wall of their caucus meetings when they were likely given quotas for mentioning the failing states.
Always, such countries serve as a cautionary tale for British Columbia. They are a dire warning that governments must live within their means or face utter ruin. They also justify the government's austerity actions, in my opinion, which are outlined in this budget. So whenever we hear calls for more spending, all the government has to really do is trundle out the ruins of the Parthenon, and the debate is settled.
No one is going to disagree that governments must live within their means and be responsible stewards of the public purse, but you cannot compare apples to olives. There is disagreement over what this budget is. Some observers are calling it an austerity budget. The government calls it cautious and prudent. The Finance Minister relished the use of intensifiers like "very" and "extremely" to describe just how prudent this government is being. Still others have called the budget callous or devastating.
So what is it?
K. Krueger: Do you represent anything?
V. Huntington: I represent the people, Member.
It is the work of a government backed into a corner. Until recently, we were told deficits would extend beyond this year, requiring another amendment to the province's balanced budget legislation.
Deputy Speaker: Member.
Member, take your seat for a moment, please.
It's important for the Chair to hear the debate. Could I ask all members to please concentrate on the person who is speaking.
V. Huntington: Instead we have a plan to plug a $1 billion hole in the budget in the course of a year, just in time for the next election, thanks in part to a fire sale of provincial assets. I can't help but notice that the revenue this measure is…
Deputy Speaker: Member.
Member, take your seat.
Could we have order in the chamber, please?
The member for Delta South continues.
V. Huntington: …supposed to raise in the coming fiscal year, $475 million, covered that $495 million — that absolute maximum deficit we saw unveiled prior to the 2009 election.
The move is desperate. It's no more history than 11 years of government and ten years of opposition. The move is desperate. It's fine to talk about an underutilized….
Deputy Speaker: The member has a point of order?
K. Krueger: Thank you, Madam Chair. It is a rule in this House that members are not supposed to be reading what they have to say. They're supposed to be speaking. I think the member should speak her mind and not read a prepared text to us.
Deputy Speaker: There has been latitude provided to both sides of the House over the time that I have sat here, for over two years, and so I'd ask the member for Delta South to continue.
V. Huntington: Thank you, Madam Speaker, for that advice, and I will certainly take it under advisement. I was not aware that that was a policy of the House.
It's fine to talk about an underutilized parking lot beside the legislative precinct, but we know there is more to it than this. The fact that the government will not release its list of assets for sale does trouble me, and 40 percent of these are in the educational sector. The sale of such neighbourhood staples often brings controversy and instability to communities.
I've always had a very difficult time with the sale of real estate assets that belong to the public. It is shortsighted in the extreme. What is sold today will never return to the public fold. This province is young in its history, and we should be preserving our future options as much as we possibly can. Land is forever. Land is public opportunity, and to have brought the province to such a sorry financial state that this government will look to land to solve its deficit is utter mismanagement of our future flexibility.
On a similar issue of fiscal mismanagement, I am worried about the upward spiral of provincial debt. It stood at $36.4 billion in 2002, and by 2014 it is projected to hit $66.4 billion. This is an increase of 82 percent in 12 years. And where is the plan to bring it under control?
I don't fault the government for having to run deficit budgets in the last few years, and we know that these have added to the debt. I also appreciate the importance of spending on infrastructure to replace aging assets. What worries me is the attitude I detect from the government about the debt. What disappoints me is its hypocrisy in how it handles it. Government asserts that B.C.'s debt remains affordable when using the debt-to-GDP ratio. But just because B.C.'s is lower than most doesn't make that ratio good, and there are a multitude of other accounting tools one can use to analyze the books.
Are there other analyses that paint a different picture? We don't know. The budget doesn't tell us. Beyond the province's credit rating, interest rates are at rock-bottom
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levels. Will the debt be so affordable in future years when the rates inevitably rise? Already the interest bite is set to increase in the next three years.
I have heard government members repeat how irresponsible it is to pass a cheque for increased operational spending onto our children and grandchildren. How is it different to hand them the bill for our increased capital spending? The burgeoning debt load is the elephant on that side of the chamber and casts a pall on the government's assertion that it is managing our economy properly.
Another area of concern for me is the increasing shift to regressive taxation through raised Medical Services Plan premiums, ICBC rates and B.C. Hydro bills. Again, I don't fault the government for needing to raise revenue. As a society, we expect certain services from our governments, and it is reasonable that we should pay for them. The issue is how we pay for such services.
The government has a history of cutting its personal and corporate income taxes. That's fine, but it doesn't tell the whole story. In its refusal to deviate from this narrative, the government has increasingly turned to user fees.
In the last few years MSP premiums have gone up by 22 percent. It's not good enough to hide behind the excuse that health care expenditures continue to grow. Of course they do. What people want to see is a discussion of funding options, instead of pretending that MSP premium hikes are the inevitable and only option. It is a regressive option, and its impact should be closely monitored by government.
After rising 8 percent last year, B.C. Hydro rates are set to rise another 7 percent in April this year. They were supposed to rise 3 percent after the government's review last summer. How much faith can we put in the old projection of 3 percent for next year?
The B.C. Utilities Commission is finally calling foul on the massive overuse of deferral accounts, which have allowed the Crown corporation to post meaningless profits and the government to collect generous dividends.
We see a similar raid on ICBC's coffers, to the tune of $1.2 billion between 2010 and 2014. The government defends this practice by saying these funds come from the optional insurance side of the business. What difference does that make to the public? The public see it simply as robbing Peter to pay Paul, and they are both Peter and Paul.
We also see a government wrestling with its very own monster, the carbon tax. The government talks about how it is the sole jurisdiction on the continent with such a tax, but I'm hard-pressed to think of another jurisdiction that would bring in a tax that is a net loss to the treasury.
According to the carbon tax report included in the budget, the financial loss was $124 million in 2010-11 and is $192 million in the current fiscal year. The fact that the tax is still a sore spot for many businesses in the province suggests it isn't doing the government any public relation favours either.
I do, however, very much applaud the government for finally recognizing the effects the carbon tax has had on certain British Columbian industries, and on the competitiveness of B.C.'s greenhouse and cement industries in particular. I thank the Minister of Agriculture for listening to the concerns raised by greenhouse growers during a meeting in Delta that I organized last July. The review of the impacts of this tax is overdue and welcome.
On another note, quite remarkably, the Finance Minister has acknowledged the crucial role of agriculture in B.C. I do hope, too, that he will have a serious chat with the CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, who thinks agriculture has little role to play in B.C.'s economy. On the other hand, talk is cheap.
I see in the budget for the Minister of Agriculture that the government continues to deliberately strangle the Agricultural Land Commission. In the last ten years funding for the ALC has fallen by 33 percent. In November 2008 the ALC estimated it was operating at approximately 20 percent below its minimal requirements to maintain its core business, and those were boom times compared to today.
I was heartened last fall when the government announced it would inject $1.6 million into the ALC. I thought it was finally some relief and recognition of the commission's crucial role in preserving agricultural land. But this money didn't carry forward in the budget, and moreover, funding levels for the ALC are frozen for the next few years at the same dysfunctional level. The government can't have it both ways. Either it believes in protecting agricultural land, or it does not. It is with a heavy heart that I believe it does not.
This failure to adequately fund the ALC is particularly galling because the government is willing to spend $2.6 million on a brand-new office for the auditor general for local government. It ignores the problems crying out for a solution and lavishes attention on the solutions looking for a problem.
Finally, hon. Speaker, I would like to come back to the debt. Government has delivered on many of its infrastructure commitments — highways, bridges, railroad crossings — eating up thousands of acres of precious agricultural land for industrial development, building transmission lines, and in so doing, ignoring the social and environmental costs that a failure to listen can inflict.
I don't argue that infrastructure development is important to the future of the province. But even putting the social and environmental costs aside, the provincial debt is running at billions and billions of dollars. How long is it going to take the economic benefits to pay back these billions of dollars? Where are the cost-benefit studies? How long will our grandchildren be paying for our debts? And has anybody ever given that figure to the public? Is that figure even available?
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But beyond all else, this budget fails to provide a plan to answer that dark cloud hanging over this province.
M. Stilwell: I rise today to speak in support of the budget. But frankly, I want to do more than that. Like every British Columbian, I know that a budget is much more than about the numbers. It's much more than about balancing the books or managing your finances. Ask any family about their own household budget, and you'll find that when you get past the numbers, past the sacrifices, past the work of putting something aside for a rainy day…. Once you get past all that, you realize that a budget is about the future.
Whether you're one family or a province of more than a million families, you put your budget together to make your future possible. You budget not to rationalize numbers but to realize your dreams. You budget not for the pleasure of planning but for the rewards that the right plan can deliver.
Listening to the Minister of Finance deliver this year's budget reminds all of us that budgets are more than an academic exercise in crunching numbers. Those numbers actually mean something. They mean new jobs, new opportunities and an optimism about the future, because whether you look across the province or the country or around the world, we're seeing the best and the worst when it comes to budgets.
In Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy we're seeing what happens when budgets are ignored, and if the new world here in British Columbia can learn anything from this old-world lesson, it has to be that bad budgets kill dreams. They kill opportunities and inflict pain and suffering, all because people in places of power and responsibility failed to do their job. They failed to step up and do the right thing by their people when they could.
Instead, they put off and put off what should have been done to turn things around, to bring budgets and spending under control. They put off to tomorrow what should have been done today, and in the end they really did nothing but ignore the problem they knew was coming.
In British Columbia our fiscal house is in order, and under this government we do intend to keep it that way. There will be no Greece for British Columbians. We'll do what needs to be done because it's the right thing to do.
We will tighten our belts today because we have big dreams for tomorrow. We'll sacrifice a little today not because we want to be victims or martyrs to our accountants and economists but because we want to make sure that our children and grandchildren can dream big without the burden of overpowering debt, the kind of debt that puts a stranglehold on dreams and ambition and vision.
The Minister of Finance talked about being prudent and practical not because he doesn't have big plans for B.C. — in fact, just the opposite. The curse of insurmountable debt that is crushing the economies of Europe is not the sort of European import we want for British Columbia.
This budget is a reminder to every British Columbian, no matter where they live or where they work. It's a reminder that keeping our financial house in order will keep us well-positioned to take advantage of future opportunity. That is as much a part of any budget as the balance sheet itself.
Unfortunately, when we hear the comments from some across the aisle, I feel like I'm in Europe, where politicians put themselves and their countries on a road littered by overspending, growing taxes and never-ending borrowing. It's a vicious cycle that has put entire countries in the vise grip of unmanageable debt. But the real tragedy is that so many people and politicians in Europe, and even now in the United States, are somehow surprised by their fate. They're surprised that you can't go on borrowing and borrowing and think the piper never has to be paid.
With growing debt comes fewer and fewer options, fewer solutions and, ultimately, more taxes and less service. Perhaps even worse, as we're seeing in Greece now, overpowering debt also comes with outsiders telling you how to manage your finances because you are incapable of doing it yourself. So when I hear opposition to our prudence, our frugality, our common sense — well, it's just all Greek to me.
But the saddest thing of all…. As the opposition looks to spend more and more of what we don't have, we all know we're not the only ones who will foot this bill. We can't look selfishly at today and not the future. Frankly, it's an indictment of failed policies of the past that spend today without thought to the future and the bills for the next generation, and that's something we won't do.
We have to pay our bills, and we have to meet our responsibilities head on. It's not easy, and it's not because any of us love adding up numbers in a column as though it were some sort of school-day exercise. We do it because the future of this province starts here right now with all of us. The financial decisions we make today will leave a lasting impression on this province and future generations.
If we want our children and grandchildren to take advantage of the opportunities that come with that future, they cannot be manacled by our debt and bills they can never hope to repay. That's no future, and it's no life. Just ask the Europeans.
Like my constituents in Vancouver-Langara, I know that prosperity is something that you have to work on every day, not something that you pay attention to only when it's convenient. There is no one in this House, no matter on which side of the aisle they sit, who does not desire to leave this world a better place. Most certainly, our decisions in this House will leave it a very changed place, and certainly the jury is still out on the me gener-
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ation, with its fixation on the here and now with almost no regard for the future.
In past generations, leaving a legacy meant leaving a new generation to carry on. Families had many children, and over time they became healthier and wealthier as the economy developed and grew. Our grandparents and parents became accustomed to the satisfying assumption that their offspring would live longer and be more prosperous than their parents.
We now face a future where declining fertility rates mean that the aging and aged population will outnumber younger, working generations. The simple fact is we have staggering implications to face for our economy, our future and our children's future.
Balancing the budget in 2013-14 is important for another reason. It is a promise, and one that must be kept, to restore trust in our capabilities, to be the best managers of B.C.'s economy in good times and in bad.
The Finance Minister has called the budget part of the new reality for governments, and he is right. It is the new reality for now. We want to make sure that our policies make sure that it is not the new forever. Government has the power to make and facilitate policies that foster economic growth into the future, one that we can all look forward to.
Recently an article in the Guardian said: "Canada has the look of a superpower."
With the current shift of the economic engine to the west, they are talking about British Columbia, and the future is right here.
Now that the budget shows the year ahead, let's focus on the issue that we ignore at our peril. That is our standard of living, or household income. Our standard of living depends on productivity. I shudder to think that mine will be the first generation to leave our children with worse prospects for household income than we inherited. We must fully engage in that conversation, which will be crucial to their standard of living, with an emphasis on innovation.
Canada and British Columbia have much to be proud of. We enjoy open, thriving, diverse economies, and we also know that those things we enjoy are under increasing threat in a competitive world. I'm particularly pleased that our B.C. jobs plan includes a consultative process to develop recommendations to help support a globally competitive and diverse economy that grows jobs and promises innovation within the province's balanced-budget framework.
We know that our future will be comfortable by our natural resources — as one columnist put it, "the pumping and digging and cutting." These resources are capital-intensive but don't require much innovation and processing. While the challenge in the northeast and northwest sector is ensuring trained workers are available, the regional workforce tables are designed to make sure stakeholders who know the region — from post-secondary, industry, First Nations, and so on — will design solutions to align training with the job needs of the future.
Our Premier has emphasized the reality that governments don't create jobs; the private sector creates jobs. I will go one step further and suggest that it is not the old, established and mature companies that create the most new jobs. Instead, it is the small and medium-sized new companies with new ideas, processes and products that create the most new jobs.
For example, today the headlines read that B.C. tech companies are looking to hire in 2012, predicting roughly 3,000 to 4,000 jobs will be added in this sector in the coming year. This sector now employs more than 80,000 people in B.C., more than the forestry, mining, and oil and gas sectors combined. Over the past ten years it has been the second-fastest creator of jobs.
This is the knowledge economy. The incentive to work in the knowledge economy is higher wages. The tech sector pays about $1,200 per week, 50 percent higher than the average industrial wage of $800.
It's interesting and striking to me that Canada sits high in G8 rankings of many important economic indicators, except those relating to innovation and productivity — the two most important being employment of R-and-D workers and adoption of new technology, the very two things that all developed countries know are fundamentally linked to continued economic success and maintaining a high standard of living.
I am most certainly not the only one concerned about this. In a recent speech to the Perimeter Institute the federal Finance Minister said: "Quite frankly, we have unacceptable levels of support for R and D and innovation in many parts of the Canadian private sector." He and our Premier are absolutely correct.
This issue is important. It draws a line in the sand and a line that will decide what kind of future we have in the years ahead. Government, as the Premier has said, works to create the environment. It encourages the economy to grow. Governments today are striving to create a more innovative culture. To do so, we must all do more than pay lip service.
Innovative cultures or environments model the behaviour of continuous research and development and early adoption of that innovation. That is something we have done a poor job of here in Canada. In fact, as the federal Finance Minister said, R-and-D spending by business in Canada has actually decreased in real terms since 2006. They have become a headwind in our race towards innovation. Government can have a role. For instance, we must be the constant early adopters.
So what does government own that can be used to spur innovation and the economy? Government owns five things: taxes, regulations, the public service, the education system and the health system. If that's the case, then why shouldn't British Columbia be the most innovative
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region in the world in those five areas? By doing so, we will build the environment that encourages the private sector to do the same.
This government has worked hard to ensure competitive tax rates, and we must continue to examine not just how much we tax but when, where, how and who we tax.
This government owns regulation. The Premier has pledged to create a regulatory framework that encourages economic growth. I often think that governments think of regulations as if they are a lawn that grows up over time and then needs to be uniformly mown. Instead, let's be tactical. We need to be smart enough to know which regulations are important and which are not, which regulations serve a purpose and which are merely an impediment to progress and prosperity. In other words, why wouldn't we have the most innovative regulatory regime in the world rather than the temporarily shortest lawn?
Then there's the public service. It's something we own, so let's be proud of it. I have been continually impressed by the brains and drive of people I have met in our B.C. public service. Why don't we unleash and allow this talent to help us become the most innovative public sector possible? In fact, I see our public service not as a drain on our bottom line but as an asset with the potential to grow our province and the economy.
One way they can innovate is by reinventing our procurement policies and allowing and encouraging the use of new processes and technologies developed in B.C. to be tested here in B.C. Got a better mousetrap for Education and Health? Why wouldn't we try it here in B.C. by providing opportunities for beta site testing and first customers to show other potential buyers from elsewhere? This is how new technology companies get started all over the world. It's a way to encourage R-and-D spending that we can all benefit from while we grow.
The government owns education. Regardless of how it is provided, we will be held responsible for the quality of this public good. The Premier has talked about the importance of modernizing education. I couldn't agree more. Why wouldn't we build on our successes instead of resting on the laurels of an outstanding education system built by our parents and grandparents?
Our scores on international testing are impressive. There are two important observations, however, about these scores. Number 1: several countries, notably China and Korea, are coming up fast, with rising scores, and we need to stay on top. If not, our children will become the world's labourers and not the world's leaders.
When President Obama went to South Korea, he asked their president: "What is your greatest problem in education?" The president of South Korea replied: "The demands of parents. Even the poorest parents demand we teach our children English."
The other observation is this: the scores reflect equity in education in Canada, something that directly contributes to the vibrancy, diversity and resilience of the fabric of Canadian society and makes us a top choice for immigration. This is a treasured legacy and, although it is true, came of a 20th century curriculum.
The world has indeed changed, and we all agree that we want an education system that not just creates a strong citizenry but serves the public with choice, flexibility and — I would argue, most importantly — the skills required to find valued jobs to support themselves and their families. The 21st century curriculum in B.C. must be described through consultation so that we really understand what those skills need to be and how they are developed from K-to-20, not just K-to-12.
During the summer, I travelled the province to hold technology round tables and heard over and over again the need for skilled and qualified workers to grow the companies and the economy. We've all heard the same stories about how good jobs go begging for the lack of qualified people.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
There are two groups of skills that are requested over and over. The first is more science, technology, engineering and math graduates, and the second is social skills and the ability to work well in teams, the very skills that come from 21st century economies.
Finally, if we look to other strong technology economies, like Germany and Israel, you will see an unashamed emphasis on excellence in the school system. Why? Because they know that the top 5 to 10 percent of students will be the creators of ideas, invention and ultimately jobs.
Magnet schools for the best and brightest students are funded to ensure that outstanding students are groomed and developed no different than how we groomed and trained Olympic athletes to win gold medals in 2010. We committed ourselves to own the podium for the Olympics. Why would education excellence be any different?
The response to the Olympics made it clear that British Columbians have an appetite for excellence. Why wouldn't we have the most innovative education system in the world?
Finally, the last thing that we own, of course, is the health system, one that we are justifiably proud of in Canada. Why wouldn't we have the most innovative health system in the world? No one knows the strengths and weaknesses of our health systems better than the people who work in them in each region of this province. While centralization has benefits, we also know that central command and control kills innovation.
I believe we are underutilizing one of our greatest assets — our people. Improving the sophistication and innovative potential of the private and public health sectors with greater R-and-D spending and producing products and services higher on the value chain will ensure B.C.'s health system has a healthy future.
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I want to wrap up by reinforcing what I said at the beginning of my comments. A budget for budget's sake is of little interest to most people, but a budget that gives us the opportunity to dream big, to dream bold is the sort of budget that the Minister of Finance presented here this week. It's a budget that lays down the bedrock that's needed to grow an economy, and it's the kind of budget that lets the world know we are open for business.
It's the kind of budget that emphasizes our priorities in health and education, and it's the kind of commitment our children need from all of us — that we will not leave them high and dry, clutching the bills their parents' generation left for them because we were too lazy to clean up after ourselves.
By any measure, there is light at the end of the economic tunnel, and it's a bright, optimistic light. Mr. Speaker, we know what needs to be done, and more importantly, we're doing it. We're doing it right now.
When people toss their noisy gibes and disgruntled protests, I can barely hear them over the appreciative applause of B.C. families who know we're doing the right thing for them, their children and their future.
S. Fraser: Hon. Speaker, welcome to the debate. I see you just taking your seat here.
I take my place in the debate on Budget 2012. I'm happy to be representing my constituents in Alberni–Pacific Rim. I'll also be speaking as the critic for aboriginal affairs, but I'll start with some broader comments.
It's a challenging time in the world economy, certainly a challenging time in British Columbia. Budgets aren't easy at the best of times, and at this point in time more challenging still. Economic recovery in the world is slow.
The people of British Columbia certainly expect that they'll see leadership and management in a budget. I haven't seen that at all in this budget. It's sort of an autopilot budget. I'm disappointed. There is no management component. There is no leadership component. There wasn't a recognition of the needs of the people of British Columbia.
I'll say that was highlighted in our first week of the sitting, last week. Just prior to this budget we had, certainly, three reports that I can think of off the top, probably more. The first one was the Ombudsperson's report, and it was on seniors care. It was a scathing indictment of this government's handling of seniors. We don't have any….
Deputy Speaker: Member.
S. Fraser: We don't see anything in the budget to address those needs.
Deputy Speaker: Member.
S. Fraser: Hon. Speaker, the member across the way was extremely rude to the independent who spoke earlier. I can take it; however, I don't believe everyone can hear the debate when he's being this rude.
Deputy Speaker: Member, please have your seat.
The member will listen to the speaker who has the floor.
S. Fraser: The Ombudsperson's report on seniors care highlighted certainly some dire situations for seniors in this province. Certainly, 176 remedies were offered for that, and we're not seeing that reflected in the budget. So that's a problem.
I'll give you an example. In my constituency, in Port Alberni, there are lineups for assisted-living services and supportive housing services and, I would submit, also for residential care. There is a need that has not yet been met. Seniors are often spending time in hospitals, in the West Coast General, in acute care beds. According to the Ombudsperson's report, one of the recommendations was that the health authorities need to make available all of the facilities that are available, to highlight those to those seniors that need them so that they can get those services.
There is a facility called Returning the Favour Care Home in Port Alberni. It's a quality facility, and it sits half empty while seniors are facing the prospect of maybe even leaving the valley and leaving their homes and their loved ones. That's not efficient. There are health care savings that can be had there. Acute care beds in the hospital are expensive.
So there are all sorts of efficiencies this government could have addressed in this budget, like providing care for seniors in facilities like Returning the Favour, and this government has done nothing to address those. As a matter of fact, I've raised this issue with the minister responsible in the estimates and in letters and got no response.
I guess I didn't expect to see any remedy in the budget. However, after such a report from the Ombudsperson's you would think that the government would try to take care of seniors better and that that would be reflected in this budget, and it was not. So that's a major failure.
Following that scathing report, the Auditor General delivered a report last week on the state of forests — not mismanagement of the forests, no management of the forests. No job strategy, except to knock the trees down, put them on a boat and send them somewhere else for jobs elsewhere. A scathing report again.
The government, the minister responsible, had this report for months, and there is no reflection of any attempt to manage what probably amounts to our most valuable resource. I believe the Auditor General highlighted that. I think he called it a one-third-of-a-trillion-dollar resource — just the trees. Not the land base — another trillion on top of that.
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This government has not even provided the resources to inventory that incredibly valuable resource. So as far as economic development goes, again, complete bungling and mismanaging of a very, very valuable — probably our most valuable — resource.
In my constituency the workers have faced that. There have been job losses. There may be more. And there has been no leadership shown through this budget to address those desperate needs of so many people in British Columbia.
Renewable resources like this should be managed in a way for future generations. They have always been managed in a way for future generations by every government but this one. They can't even tell what's on the land base.
The budget doesn't even mention the forests. So the government has been advised of a desperate lacking of management from them of our most valuable resource, and the budget doesn't even mention that. There's no remedy. In other words, it's status quo. You're on autopilot as the resource gets squandered at the expense of future generations. How members on both sides like to talk about that. But the fact is, this government is failing future generations.
The BCUC report. Again, just before a budget delivered this week, we see BCUC, the Utilities Commission, suggesting that the creation of 27 deferral accounts is, in essence, padding the books for B.C. Hydro, misleading the public on the true state of affairs. That is not good management. That is not what the people of British Columbia expect.
We're seeing hydro rates go up because of that mismanagement. That's a tax. No one can tell me that's not a tax. The mismanagement of B.C. Hydro has led to the Liberal government increasing the hydro tax on the people of British Columbia.
That's not a unique situation here in the province. We see another tax with MSP premiums going up again. With the Liberals, the medical services premiums have gone up 85 percent. That's a tax, a significant tax on the people of British Columbia.
Hydro rates are a tax. They're going through the roof. They're going up, up, up — a tax. MSP premiums up, up, up — a tax, another tax. ICBC rates going up — another tax.
The mother of them all is the HST, and we find out it's over another year of an imposed tax that the public, the people of British Columbia, rejected. It's a tax that exacerbates the already…. I think we're the record in Canada. We have the largest income gap in the country.
These are problems that the public has told the government about, that independent bodies have told the government about. But the government is rolling along as though they're not there, as though there was no budget. It's on autopilot. So Gordon Campbell brings in a tax, which was his downfall. Rightly so, the people of British Columbia reject that tax in an unprecedented way. The new Premier comes in and promises change. And the change is: "We're going to continue that tax for yet another year."
Well, I got a phone call this week from a small business owner in Port Alberni. Bill Scott owns Proline Glass, a glass installation company. It's been around for 13 years, well respected. Like many small businesses, they have felt the teeth of this tax, the HST. It has been harmful to so many small businesses, which are part of the backbone of our economy, a very important part.
To have this tax continued yet for 19 months — after 11 months to bring it in — is unacceptable. The purgatory period, if you will, for this tax to be removed causes nothing but uncertainty. It stalls economic activity. Bill Scott and other small business owners that I've spoken to are feeling that, and they're feeling it badly. It is hurting the economy, but it is a shift in the wealth again. It's about $2 billion out of the people of British Columbia and their pockets, and it's shifted to several corporate sectors, with no requirement for those sectors to invest a dime to create one job.
Probably the biggest legacy of this autopilot budget is that that'll just continue — another year plus, another $2 billion out of the people's pockets to benefit several sectors that don't have any requirement to invest a dime back in British Columbia. There's a good deal, hon. Speaker. That's another betrayal on the first betrayal, because this tax wasn't supposed to be brought in because "It wasn't on the radar screen."
We're not getting a new style of government here. We're getting a continuation of the most dreaded tax in the history of British Columbia, the most reviled tax shift imposed on the people of British Columbia. Where was the minister? Where were the government members? They must have noticed the outrage from the public. They must have noticed the report from the Ombudsperson that suggested that this government is not managing seniors care at all. They're not managing forests at all. They're not managing our Crown corporations properly at all.
They just got these reports. They had time to adjust and to address the problems that have been pointed out by the public and by independent bodies that are respected — except by this government. It's ironic that this government is bringing in an auditor general for municipal governments, when it appears they don't even open the front page of the Auditor General's report when it comes to themselves. There's no introspection. They don't learn from this.
How can you put out a budget that doesn't address all the key issues that have been highlighted, that are needed in this province? For me, seeing cuts to post-secondary…. We have, probably, the highest student debt in the country. If not, we're tied. We have this government charging the highest rate of interest on that student debt — probably had the highest increase in tuition fees in the country. And we have a government that did the unbelievable: removed needs-based grants for students who want to get ahead but now are being prevented by this government.
[ Page 9435 ]
So the best investment you could have as a jurisdiction is to invest in the people, to invest in young people, to invest in the future. It takes some foresight, but if you were trying to attack one group — say, students — that were hoping to get training after high school, you couldn't do a better job than this government. Brilliant, in a diabolical way. And that's the sector they're doing a significant cut to in this budget. Shame on this government.
Both sides of the House have talked a bit about debt. We certainly know the world conditions of how debt can get out of control. Certainly, if you're hiding debt in deferral accounts, well, that's one way to handle it, I suppose. This government has made another choice, a conscious effort, budget to budget to budget, to produce capital projects using P3s, public-private partnerships. It doesn't go down on the books as debt, but it's akin to debt. In the last year, by my calculation, that debt's gone from $53 billion to over $80 billion in one fiscal year.
These are fixed costs. This takes away all discretion from government. They have to pay these costs for the future and right into future generations — massive amounts, $80 billion plus. It really is a debt, but it's not calculated in that debt-to-GDP ratio that the government members like to trot out quite frequently. That's a problem. That's a legacy that future generations will have to pay for, future generations that are finding it harder and harder and harder to even get an education because this government has produced the highest student debt in the country. They've made it out of reach for so many students. They've failed so many students.
So how will those future generations pay that $80 billion in debt? How will they muster that when they can't afford to get post-secondary education or skills training from a gutted apprenticeship program under this government? Nothing to address that. As a matter of fact, it's the opposite. It's a cut to post-secondary.
Balance the budget by 2013. Let's sell off land. Let's sell off some of British Columbia — one-time sale to try to live up to an election promise to balance the budget. No long-term thinking here. Let's sell off some of British Columbia to cover mismanagement from this government.
This is a government that knows we have the highest child poverty rate in the country. A budget that would address that, say, by having a strategy, developing a strategy like other provinces that don't have the highest child poverty rate in the country — why don't we see that in the budget? That would be an investment. I would suggest that would be a great investment, because poverty is expensive. We've got the worst legacy of child poverty in the country, so why wouldn't we see some investment in a strategy to deal with that? We don't see that in the budget. It's a problem. There's nothing.
You know what? There's nothing. There are 35,000 jobs just in the forest industry that have been lost under this government — worst job-creation record in the history of the province. Horrible. At their own progress board….
S. Fraser: I am not government yet…
Deputy Speaker: Member.
S. Fraser: …but if we want to switch sides, we'll see a start of a fix to a big problem.
At this point, I'm going to switch gears a bit.
Deputy Speaker: Member, please take your seat.
S. Fraser: I do look forward to that member taking his place in this debate, hon. Speaker. I'm sure it will be an eye-opener.
Aboriginal affairs is my critic role. I'm honoured to have that role. It is a complex file, and it's a complex portfolio. There was almost no mention in the budget of anything dealing with First Nations — a couple of brief statements. And there was a….
S. Fraser: One of the jobs I've been trying to take on is to highlight with the minister and previous ministers the importance of producing an urban aboriginal strategy. The minister has admitted that 70 percent of aboriginal people are actually living off reserve, and what is clear is that there is no strategy. To be fair, that's a bad legacy of all governments. There's no aboriginal off-reserve strategy in this province.
So we saw in the throne speech…. I'm going to do a quote here: "The government will work with aboriginal partners, the federal government and local governments to develop an off-reserve aboriginal action plan to achieve better education and job training, healthier family life, and strengthened culture and traditions." I agree with those statements.
One of, probably, the most effective deliverers of service to off-reserve aboriginal people are the B.C. friendship centres. There are 23 in the province. They do great work, against all odds. There is no core funding from the province. The funding on the ground was actually cut last year from $30,000 for each centre that assists hundreds, if not thousands, of aboriginal people living off reserve in the province.
Of course, under this government we've had the highest poverty rate, the highest rate of discrepancy between the income gap, and a lot of that has been reflected in
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a geometric increase in the needs of people that attend friendship centres. But the government cut the budget.
That's a significant problem. I did ask the minister last year — and there was a response — to support friendship centres. They've asked. They've done a costed ask for $2.9 million a year for all 23 friendship centres — a very wise investment. The needs are great, and the service delivery is already there. They're in place; they are established. There's nothing. There's nothing in the budget. There is no help.
It's exactly the same amount of money, almost, that the new supposed auditor general for municipal affairs office is going to cost, and no one asked for that. Well, there were a few business friends that asked for it, but there was no need identified for such an office. There's a great need identified for aboriginal people living off reserves that use friendship centres and other services, and there's nothing, no support. The cut rate from last year stays the same.
So how come the throne speech talks about developing an aboriginal off-reserve action plan, which must include aboriginal friendship centres, and there's nothing in the budget? The words of the throne speech were not followed through with any substance.
Why would we not invest in aboriginal people living off reserve…?
Deputy Speaker: Members.
Member, please take your seat.
S. Fraser: Hon. Speaker, he's eating up my time, and I have things to say.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
I'd ask the member for Kamloops–South Thompson to come to order. The member has had repeated warnings, and this will be the last.
S. Fraser: I will be probing this in estimates. A complete failure. A commitment made in the throne speech, which I agree with, to support aboriginal friendship centres, to do an aboriginal off-reserve strategy that's direly needed, and there's nothing in the budget.
I would note that Gordon Campbell, when he was Premier, came up with a plan for a new relationship. It was an interesting and ironic situation for me, moving into the critic role when I got elected in 2005, because as critic you're supposed to criticize the new relationship. I agreed. I agree with the new relationship — the words, the spirit, the intent. I agree, a simple document.
I know that First Nations in the province are looking for certainty around this document, which they have not got. There was movement.
So we have a new Premier, and the new Premier has made it even more confusing. In the service plan for this budget, she is referring to "new relationships" — not the new relationship and the certainty of the new relationship. Calling it new relationships is different. This is a warning to all First Nations in the province that the new relationship — the so-called new relationship — which requires certainty, is dead.
The new Premier says: "It's not just about a new relationship. It's about new relationships, very much in the plural — new relationships that lead to self-sufficiency." What about the commitments made in the new relationship? Are they dead? I guess so.
We have a treaty process that the treaty commissioner herself blew the whistle on. Sophie Pierre a few months ago suggested that if we can't fix the treaty process…. And it needs fixing. It's never evolved since it was developed. It's not evolved to reflect decisions in courts or in international declarations, like the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. It's broken, it's expensive, and she has blown the whistle on that.
Now, the Premier suggested we could do one-off agreements instead, missing the whole point. What about governance? What about reconciliation? One-off agreements only benefit First Nations that happen to have resources that some company wants. What about those nations that don't have those resources? Don't they deserve reconciliation too?
How do we fix that — right? There's a commitment made. I mean, there's got to be a commitment made. The treaty commissioner said that we have to fix the treaty process.
I look at the fix here, the budget…. Well, here's a treaty update also. "The 20th anniversary of…B.C.'s treaty process this September is no cause for celebration, but it may be a catalyst for renewal." Sophie Pierre said, as I mentioned: "Get it done, or shut it down." So get it done. There's advice from the treaty commissioner. How are we going to get it done?
[L. Reid in the chair.]
The budget for treaty goes from $40.021 million to $40.007 million, and there's no mention of anything that would be called catalyst for renewal. What happens to the treaty process now?
We've had no clarification from this government and nothing from the Premier — just more confusion about one-off resource agreements. They do not address reconciliation issues. This is a significant problem. If lasting reconciliation is to be achieved through treaty and the treaty process is broken by the very people that run the treaty process, where is the management, the leadership of government in this budget? It is gone. There is no leadership.
Key issues have been made very clear to government
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— key issues around treaty, key issues around off-reserve aboriginal strategies, key issues around Crown corporations, key issues around seniors care, key issues around the most valuable of our natural resources, the forests — and there is nothing in the budget — no mention, no plan. That is a significant problem for the people of British Columbia, I would submit.
I believe I'm up, on time. My watch is in front of me. So I will take my seat in this debate — and watch it carefully.
R. Howard: As always, it's my pleasure to take my place in the House and represent my riding of Richmond Centre, the home of the Vancouver International Airport, the home of the original Olympic oval and the Canada Line — a place where very many exciting things happen.
Before I start, I'd like to say thanks, first, to my staff in Victoria. I'm very well served by LA Jennifer. I have a communications officer by the name of Thomas Marshall and a researcher by the name of Nigel. Back in my Richmond office Siu-Wan Ng and Chris Chan do a great job serving my constituency when I'm here in Victoria. And last but not least, I would like to thank my family — my wife, Trudy, my son Jay, my sister, mother and extended family — who all offer me great support to allow me to undertake to represent constituents of Richmond Centre.
I'll start by first saying that I'm actually quite proud of this budget, and I'll tell you why. I think it's because it starts to remind me, all of a sudden, of my budget. It reminds me of our budgets, of the average family's budget — that is, when your income goes down, you've got to manage your expenses accordingly and live within your means.
The fiscal responsibility that is demonstrated by this budget offers me some comfort. It gives me confidence to see that my government is disciplined enough to live within its means. While that sounds easy, when we look around the world at what's happening, governments who have not been fiscally responsible, who have not been disciplined, get into great trouble. So I find this confidence-building.
I thought I would first talk a little bit about the world context. I'd like to talk a little bit about my Finance Committee and the activity that we had there as we toured the province on prebudget consultations, talk a little bit about our local context, and then about a few items out of the budget itself.
Many items have been covered by many members, and I thought I'd focus just on a few that I find important. Then I thought I'd also talk about contrasts. Whenever I get up, I like to contrast the choices that we make as government to the choices that the NDP make and what those two different worlds look like.
First, to our worldwide context. When our Finance Committee toured the province, I would open the meetings just with a recognition that nightly on the news we saw really significant economic and financial events unravelling in the world — Greece, France, Italy, in the States — and again, we saw that governments that hadn't been fiscally responsible were being held to account. So one of the most striking measures that I am eager and wanting to put on the record here is the whole debt-to-GDP, because debt can speak to how you've managed your economy over time — whether you've racked up consecutive deficits and had to borrow to do that, borrow against future generations.
In B.C., I think, as we have all heard, I hope, our debt-to-GDP ratio is just a little under 18 percent. When we compare that net debt-to-GDP ratio to other parts of the world, we see some rather remarkable things. Canada's net government debt-to-GDP is about 34 percent, just a little under double ours. United States — it's a little over 60 percent, and in Greece it's around 150 percent. Again, evidence that a decade of fairly rigorous fiscally responsible management in this province has left us in very good shape.
When we even look across Canada, we see that provincial governments and federal governments are having great challenges in balancing their budgets. Not that we're not facing some challenges to do that, but the Finance Minister has just recently in this budget reconfirmed that that will happen in 2013-14. It says very much about a strong government that manages its affairs well.
We bring it back to the local context. I continue to wrestle with this triad of really challenging issues. In the first instance, we have taxes that people are…. By and large, they think they're too high. That, of course, is government's revenue. We have a population that feels they're already taxed too much. So we have serious challenges to expanding government's revenue base, because the citizens don't want to pay any more tax.
Then we look at the other side of the equation for government, and we look at the services side. Of course, there is an ever-increasing demand for services, especially when we look at the health care system, which consumes a big chunk of the provincial budget, and the aging demographics and the pressure that will put on health care expenditures.
We've got downward pressure on government revenues from our citizens and a demand for services ever increasing, and the third in that triad that we would add in is the capital account deficits. All across the country we have assets that need to be replaced as they expire. These could be anything from roads to sewers to schools to hospitals. We have lots of pressure coming to us and lots of challenges, and that will place even more pressure on governments and mean that it's ever more important for governments to be prudent and for governments to be fiscally responsible.
Madam Speaker, I'm going to cover just some of the highlights in this year's budget. There are some very interesting things in the budget, I think, and some of this — many of the items, in fact, in the budget — we heard
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from British Columbians as we toured the province in the fall in the prebudget consultation.
We heard concerns that are now reflected in the budget. I find it heartening that part of the process that we use to collect budget input actually gets listened to and acted upon by government. That's an important thing to recognize.
One of the things we heard quite strongly all over the province was that people were appreciative of a low-tax, low-regulatory environment. This government has done good work. Lots of people that spoke to us acknowledged that good work, and they were hoping we would continue down that path — the path of lower taxes and the path of lesser regulation. We heard it a number of times.
A few speakers, especially up in the Fort St. John area and Fort Nelson, wanted government to get out of the way with their high taxes, get out of the way with their high regulations and let them be successful, let them make the investments, let them create the jobs, let them do what they do best.
We look through some other highlights here. I'm mindful of a clock that's ticking, so I'm going to talk about something that….
I've heard a few members of the opposition discredit this issue in the budget. Matter of fact, I saw that the Leader of the Opposition made some comments which suggested that he didn't support the two-cents-a-litre fuel tax on international flights. I wanted to talk about that, because not only is it important in a macro issue for the economy, but it's important to individuals who either fly on planes for tourism or business reasons or who ship their goods on planes back and forth.
R. Howard: That's right. It creates jobs.
The backdrop of this, of course, is the international airport. There are 23,000-plus jobs at the airport. It's a fantastic economic generator. It's a marvellous piece of our gateway and the whole Canada Starts Here, the B.C. jobs plan. As I said, 23,600 jobs, I think, at the airport, and when you look at the indirects of that, it's about 61,000 jobs all across the province.
The elimination of the fuel tax is an important thing because it helps our competitiveness. B.C. was a bit of an island when it came to this particular tax. Alberta didn't charge it; Washington doesn't charge it. So it was really impacting our ability to compete. Just as an example, on a 747 that would arrive at YVR from Hong Kong, the tax would represent just about $3,300 on that one flight, so it's a really significant impact that was impeding our ability to grow.
Another benefit of this particular tax is that it was leveraged with other things that the airport was going to do to try and get the airline industry to show its support, show its commitment to growth, if the provincial government did reduce the tax.
We took a tax reduction, leveraged it with a bunch of other things that YVR did, and they've managed to secure commitments from, I think, 22 different airlines that have made a commitment to work with YVR to increase their traffic. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs available from this single initiative.
A single trans-Pacific flight landing daily at YVR is responsible for creating somewhere in the vicinity of 150 to 200 jobs at the airport and hundreds of other jobs in indirect — between $5 million and $15 million worth of economic activity, depending who's on the plane. So it's the kind of policy change that impacts immediately. It creates jobs, starting very quickly.
When the airport can see this kind of growth happening, they have the confidence to undertake significant construction programs. They've tied a construction program of about $600 million to their future growth. So there's a really significant vote of confidence in the province. It's another really significant creator of jobs. As they unroll a $600 million construction project, it means lots of jobs related to the flight, it means lots of jobs in support of the airport outside of the airport, and it means lots of construction, which means jobs too.
But let's take a look at the folks that are on the planes that will benefit from this now cheaper environment. Who is on the planes is you and I. It's you and I and our friends and neighbours and families who are on the planes for tourism reasons, family reasons, visiting family, business reasons.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
There are goods and services that are shipped. It could be cherries from the Okanagan, seafood from the Island. There is a whole host of beneficiaries when it comes to reducing flight travel costs.
I'm going to be mindful of the time here, and I guess what I should probably do, Mr. Speaker, is reserve my place in the debate. I've got, I think, 15 minutes or so left. I could pick up on Monday. Considering the time, I would move to adjourn debate.
R. Howard moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. P. Bell moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday morning.
The House adjourned at 5:47 p.m.
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